interview

Jason Greenblatt: I still hope peace plan will be released

U.S. Mission to the U.N.

Jason Greenblatt, Special Representative for International Negotiations Delivers Remarks at a UN Security Council Briefing on the Middle East

Jason Greenblatt, the recently departed White House Mideast peace envoy, shared his perspective on the second anniversary of President Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem during an interview with Jewish Insider.

Not held hostage: Greenblatt stressed that it is “incorrect” to suggest that the embassy relocation stalled hopes for direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians. “There were no direct talks for a long time prior to the embassy move,” Greenblatt explained to Jewish Insider. “Second, the lack of the move of the embassy over all these decades did not lead to a peace accord or anything close to it.” He added that there “was no exemption to suspend the Jerusalem Embassy Act with the hope that doing so would yield a peace process,” and that the Trump administration “cannot be held hostage to threats of a freezing of a relationship with the Palestinian Authority.”

Ultimate deal watch: Greenblatt, who left the administration last month after the rollout of the peace plan was repeatedly delayed due to Israel’s political crisis, said he still hopes the administration will release the plan, despite a likely third election in March. “A great deal of thought and time went into it by very dedicated individuals who hope to better the lives of Palestinians, Israelis and so many others in the region,” he said. “An election in Israel may change the timing. This is an analysis and decision that the administration will have to make. Twice before a decision was taken not to release the vision in the midst of an election process and a government formation process. I think that was the correct decision at the time. Let’s see what the administration decides this time around.” 

Read the full interview below:

Jewish Insider: Regarding your recent op-ed, can you elaborate on why you believe that moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was the right thing to do?

Jason Greenblatt: “First, it is important to remember that there were no talks going on prior to the Trump administration — there were no direct talks, and no talks with the U.S. playing any sort of role at the time President Trump came into office. The prior administration, as others before it, tried to achieve a breakthrough and they could not do so. I do not say this to cast blame, as I am sure they tried hard and their efforts were sincere. But I do need to point out that blaming the embassy move as the reason for the stalled talks is incorrect. There were no direct talks for a long time prior to the embassy move.” 

“Second, the lack of the move of the embassy over all these decades did not lead to a peace accord or anything close to it. Prior presidential candidates promised to honor the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, which recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and called for the move of the United States embassy to Jerusalem. But only one person who became the president of the United States actually had the courage to follow through on his promise. That was President Trump. President Trump’s view has been that he will do the right thing for the United States on all policies, and that he would not be held back by the notion that holding back on such policies will yield some miraculous breakthrough.” 

“[Separately] from deeply strengthening the U.S.-Israel relationship, which the president has done, he does hope to improve the lives of Palestinians and has a deep desire to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians and Israel and its Arab neighbors. But a peace process is not the prerequisite to follow U.S. law. The presidential waiver that allowed prior presidents to temporarily suspend what was required by the Jerusalem Embassy Act was a national security waiver. There was no exemption to suspend the Jerusalem Embassy Act with the hope that doing so would yield a peace process. It is also important to remember that it was the PA that chose to freeze the relationship. The Trump administration’s policies, which are for the benefit of the U.S. and its allies such as Israel, cannot be held hostage to threats of a freezing of a relationship with the PA. While such a freeze is unfortunate and unhelpful, more so to the Palestinians themselves than to anyone else, the PA does not get to dictate U.S. policy by threatening the U.S. The U.S. will continue to move forward with all of its policies, irrespective of the PA’s position on the Jerusalem recognition and the move of the embassy.” 

“You saw that with later decisions such as the defunding of UNRWA, a hopeless organization that uses Palestinians who live in refugee camps as political pawns with no hope for the future, the recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan, the recent announcement about cities and neighborhoods (what some call “settlements”) in Judea and Samaria/the West Bank and others. These were all decisions that were appropriate for U.S. interests, and a freeze of the U.S.-PA relationship by the PA did not stop these decisions and will not stop any decision that the administration thinks is appropriate. The ones who do get harmed by the PA’s freeze are, unfortunately, Palestinians who deserve so much better than they have today. In the end, peace can only be built on truth. And the truth is that Jerusalem was, is and will always be Israel’s capital. Pretending otherwise is folly.” 

JI: Is there still a way to roll out the peace plan in the coming months, even though Israel might be heading towards another election? 

JG: “I hope the Administration will roll out the vision for peace. A great deal of thought and time went into it by very dedicated individuals who hope to better the lives of Palestinians, Israelis and so many others in the region. Both sides, and the region, would have very serious benefits if a peace accord could be negotiated based on the ideas set forth in the plan. It is no secret that it takes into account Israel’s many significant security challenges. No plan has any chance of success if it did not. That’s just reality. Peace can only be built on reality. But as you point out, an election in Israel may change the timing. This is an analysis and decision that the administration will have to make. Twice before, a decision was taken not to release the vision in the midst of an election process and a government formation process. I think that was the correct decision at the time. Let’s see what the administration decides this time around.” 

JI: Did the Pompeo settlements announcement indicate that this is the new approach the admin is taking on the conflict? 

JG: “I think this was an important step to correct a serious mischaracterization about these cities and neighborhoods. I have long said that the existence of these cities and neighborhoods in Judea and Samaria are not the reason for a lack of peace. They are a frequent target by some, but I think that blaming these as the reason for a lack of peace is for some a misconception or lack of understanding, for others disingenuous and still for others duplicitous. Either the parties will be able to reach a deal on the many complicated issues of the conflict, including disputed land areas, or they won’t.” 

“Frankly, I find it shocking, though perhaps I should not, that people spend so much time speaking about these cities and neighborhoods, and these same people don’t talk much, if at all, about the Palestinian Authority’s horrific ‘pay to slay’ law which rewards Palestinians who murder Israelis. They barely talk (if at all) about the rocket and other attacks upon Israel from the terror groups Hamas and Palestinain Islamic Jihad, and the suffering caused by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad not just as a result of their attacks on Israel, but the suffering caused to the Palestinians themselves. There are many complex issues in this conflict. The constant focus on the cities and neighborhoods of Judea and Samaria is not helpful. This intense focus, and pretending that the land is not disputed, is merely a diversion by those who don’t want to seriously confront the difficult issues. What is also very interesting is that there is so much focus on Israeli development in these areas and little to no focus on the Palestinian development in these very same areas. For those who want to focus on development in these areas, they should focus on Palestinian development in these areas as well.” 

JI: Do you believe the president would support annexation of the Jordan Valley, since Netanyahu has been hinting that an announcement is forthcoming? How would that fit in with the grand plan of the peace process?

JG: “I won’t speak to what President Trump may or may not support. However, I will tell you that related to this is how people view the Jordan Valley, and Judea and Samaria generally. People often speak as though this land is Palestinian land. It is not. It is disputed land. The only way this dispute will be resolved is through direct negotiations between the parties. It won’t be resolved by UN resolutions or condemnations at the UN — those things merely drive peace further away. It won’t be resolved by referring to international law or international consensus, which are vague as they relate to this conflict and can be argued about for decades. Calling these areas “occupied Palestinain territory” also delays any chance of a resolution to the conflict — the name is simply false and misinforms the public. Also, any solution will only be viable if it addresses Israel’s very significant and very real security threats. To think otherwise is incorrect. To think that the Jordan Valley does not factor into those security concerns is also incorrect.” 

JI: How is life post-White House? 

JG: “I was honored to serve at the White House for close to three years; it was an incredible experience. I was blessed to have worked on the noble mission of peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and Israel and its Arab neighbors and the U.S.-Israel relationship. But now that I am home, I am thrilled. I am back to being a father and a husband and relishing ordinary life, including being back involved in the routine of daily family life — helping with homework, driving the kids around, seeing friends and relatives I was not able to see or barely speak to for close to three years. I will always look back on the period at the White House with amazement, and with deep gratitude to have been able to serve my country. But I love being back home with my family, in my community, and being a normal citizen.”

JI: What will be your role at RJC and in what way do you think you will be in a position to help the president?

JG: “I am on the board of the Republican Jewish Coalition and am honored that they asked me to join. I think they do excellent work and hope to be able to pull my weight.” 

JI: What do you make of Ron Lauder’s new organization to fight antisemitism in American politics?

JG: “I think he has identified a very important area that needs significant attention. Ronald has been a man who puts his money where his mouth is. He has done many important things for Israel and the Jewish people, including Jews in Europe. I applaud his idea — as a Jew and an American I am grateful to him for identifying the need to focus on this and being willing to be so generous with his time, dedication and money to fight it and for his desire to focus on this growing problem. We need more attention and money on this. I wish him great success on this important endeavor – we will all benefit from it.” 

JI: Do you think the president was unfairly criticized over his speech at the Israeli-American Council’s national summit on Saturday?

JG: “Absolutely. I watched people cast stones at the president since the time of the campaign. Some of it is nothing more than partisan politics and others have been led to believe things about the president that are simply not true. I deal in facts — not conjecture, not rumors and not manipulation. I have a 23-year history as an observant Jew working for President Trump. Only a very small group of people in the world have the deep experience that I do as a Jew who worked very closely for Donald Trump over two decades. I have the real inside scoop on who Donald Trump is vis a vis the Jewish community. He has always been tremendously respectful of me and my observance and of Judaism. You mentioned Ronald Lauder in the earlier question — he said it right when he said that he doesn’t ‘believe there is an antisemitic bone in [Donald Trump’s] body.’ I believe that to be true, absolutely. And I am fully qualified to say this.” 


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