Trump’s ‘Peace’ Team Shows Its Hand In Off-The-Record Meeting
Jason Greenblatt, the Trump administration’s envoy for the Middle East peace process, could have picked from a number of Jewish communities and organizations at which to speak during his stop in New York this week. That he chose the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, and under the sponsorship of Jexodus and the hard-right Coalition for Jewish Values, is an unfortunate indication that there is much to fear from the administration’s approach.
The event revealed how out of touch Trump’s team is, not just with the Palestinians but with the American Jewish community; neither sponsoring organization existed prior to the Trump presidency, and Jexodus is only three months old.
It also revealed was that Mr. Greenblatt is not so much a peace envoy as he is pro-Israel advocate-in-chief. And last night, he was a man speaking to his constituency.
The publicly listed event was billed as an “off the record briefing” and I will honor the request of the organizers not to write about the contents of the discussion. However, the choice of venue and sponsors alone should invite concern from those worried about the administration’s one-sided approach, particularly in how it might respond to its plan failing or the Israeli government moving ahead with partial annexation.
Since Trump years can feel like entire lives, it’s easy to forget that Mr. Greenblatt was met with much praise in his first months in the envoy role. In fact, in August 2017, I penned an opinion piece in these pages, calling for liberals and progressives to support the administration’s peace efforts, citing what I had clearly mistaken for Mr. Greenblatt’s fair-mindedness as a reason for hope.
Despite the intervening years, which have seen consistent attacks and sanctions on the Palestinians from Washington conspicuously contrasted with a tight embrace of Israeli interests via-a-vis the Palestinians, it was still shocking to see Mr. Greenblatt appear at an event sponsored by a group as extreme as the Coalition for Jewish Values. It’s a brand-new Trump era organization which somehow manages to tack to the right of the Orthodox community’s longstanding institutions, the OU and Agudath Israel, on multiple topics. It does this in part by being led by some of the community’s depolarables, including Rabbi Steven Pruzansky, the Coalition’s Eastern Regional VP, who referred to supporters of the Oslo peace process as the “Rabin Judenrat” shortly before Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination in 1995.
The Coalition for Jewish Values takes hardline positions in Israel on issues on which the majority of American Jews vehemently disagree, not least because these are matters in which they themselves face discrimination. The Coalition, for instance, opposes any accommodation for non-Orthodox prayer at the Western Wall, and condemns “American liberal Jews interfering in Israel’s religious affairs.” The group also opposes adoption rights for gay couples in Israel, and contrary to Jewish law, is opposed to all forms of abortion.
The other sponsor, Jexodus, which purports to be nonpartisan but who are we kidding, was started by a model named Elizabeth Pipko just a few months ago to promote Democrats leaving the party and defecting to the Republicans. It has been wielded by President Trump to attack the Democratic Party as infected with anti-Semitism. Pipko changed the name to Exodus after it was pointed out that the original Exodus was itself a Jexodus, but as of last night, the organization was back to being referred to as Jexodus.
As Middle East peace envoy, Greenblatt recklessly associated himself with Rabbi Pruzansky, in front of an organization that flatly opposes the interests, values, and rights of most American Jews. It signifies how little the mainstream Jewish community means to Trump’s team, which makes sense; Trump’s Jews have always been marginal, even within the Orthodox community.
Indeed, I am afraid this appearance may not have been mere oversight on Mr. Greenblatt’s part. A perusal of his Twitter feed reveals a man essentially engaging in pugnacious Hasbara, publicly pestering the Palestinian Authority with hardly a word of opposition directed toward Israeli opponents of compromise (to put it diplomatically) who sit in the government. He has also refused to endorse the two-state solution and has declined to say whether the administration would oppose Israeli annexation.
All of a sudden Saeb is making a false claim abt a lunch I attended 16 months ago. No such promise was made. In fact @POTUS repeatedly promised the opposite- to recognize J’lem as the capital of Israel & move the embassy. Our president keeps his promises: https://t.co/1JHb92qH2E
— Jason D. Greenblatt (@jdgreenblatt45) April 24, 2019
The Ramallah-based government of President Mahmoud Abbas is certainly not beyond criticism from the United States. But the pitfall of Team Trump’s approach is that their stick falls exclusively on the Palestinians, heaping the entire burden of progress on an occupied people with no leverage to move the needle on their own. As Hussein Ibish, a moderate and longtime fixture of Palestinian support for the two-state solution in Washington, recently wrote, Mr. Greenblatt “evinces no understanding of any aspect of the Palestinian experience.”
That conclusion was easy enough to reach from the public record. While President Trump’s stated desire to achieve a final status agreement could be a genuine reflection of his ego, the team he has assembled — Mr. Greenblatt, Jared Kushner, and the bombastic David Friedman — has other ideas in mind. They want to reorient the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the minds of Americans as one perpetually solely by Palestinian intransigence and aggression. Their “process” is designed to prove the point.
It’s no surprise that Greenblatt found friends in the audience of a Young Israel synagogue in Queens; his entire view of the conflict is theirs.
The Palestinians are right to believe the fix is in. As for American Jewish leaders, they should be extremely cautious before embracing this administration’s approach, which runs counter to the beliefs of a majority of American Jews and will likely end in failure.
If you believe the two-state solution is essential for Israel to remain a secure and Democratic Jewish state, I would suggest staying far away from these people and hope they’re gone in January 2021.
Abe Silberstein is a freelance commentator on Israeli politics and U.S.-Israel relations. His work has previously been published in the New York Times, Haaretz, +972 Magazine and the Forward.