Some of my reports about President Donald Trump’s peace envoy to the Middle East, Jason Greenblatt, have been very critical. But despite those reports, I believe Greenblatt is far from being an enemy of the settlement enterprise, or of Israel.
I also happen to believe that Jason Greenblatt represents the first American administration which actually understands the Arabs, and has come up with a viable plan to rein them in for the sake of their own future and Israel’s.
I believe that I understand Greenblatt’s plan and that it could work. I’m merely committed to pointing out the inevitable and sometimes terrifying risks to Israel and to the Jewish settlements in the liberated territories, which is the only thing I truly care about.
In a recent lecture at Tel Aviv University about the lessons of Oslo, Yaakov Amidror, a former major-general and National Security Advisor to several Israeli prime ministers, commented on the common Israeli complaint that the PLO never produced their own David Ben-Gurion, and therefore can’t make Ben-Gurion-type decisions, by which they refer to Israel’s political founder’s willingness to settle for less in order to gain more in the future.
According to Amidror, PLO chairman Yasser Arafat was every bit as able to make Ben-Gurion decisions as Ben-Gurion himself had been, but we can’t appreciate it because we don’t understand Arafat’s plans.
In 1992, Arafat was in a much worse position than Ben-Gurion had been in 1947, when he accepted the UN partition plan that awarded Israel less than half the territory of Mandatory Palestine. Ben-Gurion was already there, on the land – Arafat desperately needed to be allowed in.
And so, to Arafat, Amidror argued, embracing the Oslo agreements was his path to the promised land.
Arafat knew that everything he said about doves and olive branches and good neighbors was reversible, but his capturing of Judea, Samaria and Gaza could never be reversed.
Arafat in the Oslo story was the Trojan horse, while the entire Israeli political and military establishment played the role of the naïve Trojans.
The Trump administration entered the Middle East after six US presidents had messed it up – starting with Jimmy Carter, who deposed the Shah and forced Israel to give up a lot of land and resources in exchange for a piece of paper; Reagen’s bizarre military adventure in Lebanon that cost needless American lives; Bush I’s betrayal of his most loyal agent in the region, Saddam Hussein, to appease the Saudis; Clinton’s continued subduing of Hussein while ignoring the latter’s value in deterring Iran; Bush II’s disastrous, multi-trillion dollar invasion which turned Iraq into a loyal Shiite ally of the Iranian mullahs; and Obama’s catastrophic meddling in the Arab Spring fiasco.
Trump is the first US president who reads the Middle East correctly, possibly because he has the annoying habit of ignoring his military advisors. He has certainly improved security in the Middle East by choking the ayatollah’s regime in Iran, and by blocking the Syrian and Turkish territory to the rich Iraqi oil fields.
In the stalemated peace negotiations between the PLO and Israel, Trump, his envoy Greenblatt, and his Ambassador to Jerusalem David Friedman, understood that an even-handed approach would not do, because the problem was not Israel. Israeli leaders have been near-suicidal in their fanatical zealotry for peace in our times with their Arab neighbors. The problem was and still is that even the most generous Israel offer does not meet the most minimalist PLO demands.
Countless times, we’ve heard from Arab intellectuals, military men, politicians and journalists that the problem between us and them is not the Naksa – their name for their 1967 defeat, but the Nakba – the fact that a Jewish state was established in 1948. There is no compromising this – all the territory occupied by Jews in 1948 must be returned, and all the Arabs who fled from the land, along with their next generations for eternity, must come back.
President Trump and Jason Greenblatt are merely the first American officials to pay attention, and to realize we’ve all been dealing with the wrong partner in these tortured peace negotiations.
Which is why, from the start, the Trump administration’s approach has been to humiliate the PLO, trivialize it, cut back its funds, deplete UNRWA, shut down the PLO mission in DC, move the embassy to Jerusalem – showing the world and – much more importantly – the Arabs, that the PLO does not count.
And the PLO has reacted as expected, screaming its head off, running to the EU leadership (which could be replaced this week or next), and to Russia (which maintains a healthy diplomatic relationship with both Trump and Netanyahu).
Now, by boycotting the Bahrain conference, the PLO has written itself out of what could emerge as the most important peace conference of the past 50 years in the region. Unlike previous conferences, this one will not be a stage for politicians to placate the media with hollow proclamations. Instead they’ll be discussing money and the good things money can buy for the Arabs in Judea and Samaria, perhaps Gaza as well: a new infrastructure, power, water, housing, transportation, health, education, business, industry, agriculture.
The PLO insists that before any of these issues are settled, there are more urgent ones: a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, a total Israeli withdrawal from Judea and Samaria, a return of some 5 million children of refugees to Haifa, Acre, Jaffa, Lod, and Ramla. Issues the PLO knows full well are designed to stick the “peace process” where it is – providing the PLO with a reason to exist.
Should Jason Greenblatt succeed, his deal would launch a speedy emergence of a robust Arab middle class in Judea and Samaria, which would, in the near future, stand up to its oppressors in Ramallah. With sufficient encouragement from the US, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, and with Israeli cooperation which is already setting facts on the ground, the PLO would be relegated to the trash heaps of history.
There is no need for a traditional, US-brokered peace deal, because by definition a deal involving the PLO is destined to fail.
I suspect that all the “deal of the century” talk, with its lingering postponements, is so much camouflage. The real Trump-Greenblatt deal is intended to fix the Arabs’ abysmal economic condition, the result of 25 years of a PLO failed state.
I could be wrong—in which case there are several hats in my possession I would choose from and eat.
But I have faith that Jason Greenblatt is not a political hack. He’s a real-estate lawyer and a businessman. He should have the skill-set needed to tell what can and can’t be achieved. He would not talk his biggest client – Donald Trump – into signing his name to a deal that has no future.
Frankly, I hope Jason Greenblatt represents the Ben-Gurion spirit of the Trump administration – which requires a good measure of humility but also an almost inhuman stubbornness.
I actually think Greenblatt is a new Trojan horse, preferring to help reshape Arab society in the territories in an almost clandestine manner, for the sake of a peaceful outcome down the road. He could succeed.
Our job as a Jewish newspaper is to make sure our brothers and sisters in Israel and in the settlements (also in Israel) don’t find themselves under the wrong side of the horse.