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FIDF Hosts Virtual Q&A With Trump’s Former Middle East Negotiator Jason Greenblatt

On July 13, the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) tri-state region held an exclusive Q&A session with a panel featuring Jason Greenblatt, former chief legal officer for President Trump, and the President’s former special envoy to the Middle East. The panel discussed the importance of the IDF’s ability to defend against Israel’s broad regional threats, which now include COVID-19. The panel analyzed realistic steps towards peace in the context of the Middle East’s current geopolitical landscape.

Describing what he witnessed in Israel over the course of his three years as presidential counsel, Greenblatt emphasized the importance of supporting the FIDF. He visited IDF soldiers, many of whom were lone soldiers, and noted how they are working hard to protect Israel. Greenblatt surveyed the terror tunnels built by Hamas, the “bloodthirsty, Iran-funded, terror organization [that] has dug tunnels under the border of Gaza…to attack Israel.”

Greenblatt identified barriers that prevent peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, one being the use of incorrect terminology. He stated that referring to the West Bank as “occupied Palestinian territory” and families in those communities as “settlers” is false, as it distorts the facts on the ground by indicating that “there is no compromise [and] that the two sides do not need to come together to try to work out a solution.” Greenblatt emphasized how the UN and the EU misuse or purposely manipulate terminology, ultimately hurting these peace efforts. The idea that Palestinians and their descendants have the “right to return” to Israel and disputed Palestinian territory also affects potential peace.

In January, Trump’s administration developed the Peace to Prosperity Plan that would “allow Israel to apply its laws to the areas of land that would eventually remain part of Israel as part of the peace effort … and asked Israel … if they would set aside areas of land within Judea and Samaria that could potentially become part of a realistic Palestinian state…” This plan set up specific criteria: To have “Palestinians finally give up their payment to terrorists,” to recognize that “2 million Palestinians are suffering [in Gaza] under the iron rule of Hamas, not because of Israel,” and to solve “the many problems Palestinian leadership has to fix before we even get to discussing peace.”

Greenblatt explained that the Trump administration’s plan “is the most realistic plan offered.” It is important to recognize, he said, that no peace plan will have both sides agreeing completely but that this is part of the process. In formulating Trump’s peace plan, the administration studied past peace efforts, talked to diplomats and ambassadors and emphasized speaking directly with ordinary Palestinians and Israelis.

When two Palestinians from Gaza asked how much the administration interacted with Palestinians themselves, Greenblatt responded: “It’s not enough to just meet with the leadership” and that he wanted to “dig deep and meet… with Palestinians in refugee camps and Gazan people…” The administration saw a “tremendous difference between ordinary Palestinian voices and the voice of their leadership,” since the former were “so eager to … talk about a good future that includes working alongside and with the state of Israel.”

Greenblatt’s proudest moments were in connecting Israel and the Arab world by bringing both parties closer together. He noted that, as an observant Jew, he was humbled by his interactions with Middle Eastern leaders, including the PA, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE, who always gave tremendous respect to his religious observance. Greenblatt noted that the religious observance of his team, including that of Jared Kushner and David Friedman, gave them a deep understanding of the importance of religion to the region.

Greenblatt explained that Arab countries are no longer united in their approach towards Israel. He clarified that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not the region’s main source of conflict today. Rather, Iran poses the greatest threat towards security both in the Middle East and to the world. Greenblatt credited leaders in the Middle East for recognizing Iran’s growing threat and working together, even with Israel, to fight that threat. Greenblatt said it is time for a “Middle East 2.0,” and highlighted his belief that we have “reached a point in history where we are willing to be courageous and put politics aside.”

Tal Heinrich, TV journalist and host of the discussion, described how the IDF has been “shouldered with the responsibility of combatting COVID-19, all while protecting the state of Israel from neighboring countries and safeguarding Jewish people all around the world.” To that end, Israel has “convert[ed its] military labs into essential virus-testing labs, transforming military equipment into ventilators for hospital use, … deliver[ing] food packages to regions and to populations hit hardest by the virus.”

Major Yotam Shefer, another participant on the call, is a member of COGAT (Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories), which implements policies in the West Bank and Gaza and coordinates civilian issues between Israel and the PA. They have “transferred hundreds of thousands of testing kits, PE and required medical supplies” to Palestinians, hosted “joint professional training sessions…with Israeli and Palestinian medical teams in order to instruct the medical staff on how to examine and treat infected people,” and “facilitated thousands of workers to enter Israel so that they could continue to support their families with dignity.”

COVID-19, he stated, does not “recognize geographical boundaries and therefore it is in the common interest of both parties to maintain public health for both Palestinians and Israelis.”


Olivia Butler is a summer intern at The Jewish Link.

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