Jason Greenblatt never thought “splitting the differences” between Israelis and Palestinian Arabs would result in diplomatic progress. Nor did he think invocations of “a two-state solution” would advance the cause of peace.
Greenblatt’s ideas on the subject matter because for three years he served as President Donald Trump’s special envoy to the Middle East. Greenblatt, whose efforts helped lay the groundwork for the Abraham Accords among Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco—with an agreement between Israel and Sudan following. He spoke about his experiences to a Jewish Policy Center webinar sponsored with the Republican Jewish Coalition on August 25.
“Splitting the difference doesn’t work in the long-term,” said Greenblatt, author of the new book, In the Path of Abraham: How Donald Trump Made Peace in the Middle East and How to Stop Joe Biden from Undoing It. The differences on the ground and psychologically are too great in areas including security, Jerusalem and holy sites, claims and rights to the land and refugees, he stressed.
For example, on refugees, most of the Palestinian Arabs labeled as refugees don’t meet definitions applied to other groups, Greenblatt said. As for the two-state solution, “it means different things to different people.” For example, if it is understood to mandate complete Israeli withdrawal from territory gained in the 1967 Six-Day War, Israeli security requirements could not be met.
He described himself as an optimist who met many Palestinians who want improvement for both themselves and Israel but said “quite a number of things have to change,” including Hamas’ oppression of the Gaza Strip’s Arabs and the nature of Palestinian Authority leadership.
After about six months in office, Trump administration officials realized Palestinian leadership would not enter good-faith negotiations without preconditions, Greenblatt said. “Then they cut ties with us after President Trump courageously decided to move the U.S. embassy” from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, carrying out a campaign promise and complying with congressional legislation.
Meanwhile, as other Arab parties understood the United States was firm and unembarrassed in its support of Israel, they exhibited a growing sense that “Israel could become an ally” in the region, Greenblatt said. This both because Washington actually supported Jerusalem and because the Jewish state could partner with them in resisting Iranian subversion and expansionism and by reciprocally advantageous trade and other relationships.