Jason Greenblatt, former White House Envoy to the Middle East and host of the Podcast "The Diplomat" on Newsweek, sat down with Israel National News-Arutz Sheva’s Real Talk to discuss “the reality” of the situation in the Middle East, the reality of Israel, the reality of the conflict, and the reality of Israel’s Arab neighbors.
Speaking about the several observant Jewish advisors and diplomats in President Donald’s Trump’s White House, Greenblatt explains that post-administration, “President Trump gave a few of us a platform to be able to tell the truth, to explain to people what we learned about the conflict, that in many cases it is so different from what is portrayed in the media and by political figures.”
“I don’t think having high profile Jews in political office or diplomatic positions is a problem,” Greenblatt adds. “And in fact I would encourage observant Jewish people to continue to seek these roles. It’s the only way we can have a voice.”
He continues: “Me being an observant Jew enabled me to understand the conflict even more deeply. In a way, it permitted me to speak the same 'language' as the Arabs. They are religious people by nature. Religion is important to them, family is important to them. The fact that I needed to find a place to pray, the fact that I needed to observe kashrut, the fact that I can’t travel on Shabbat - it all resonated with them.”
Does Greenblatt think the “historical moment” of having a group of observant Jews working in the White House will ever happen again?
“I do. I’m very fortunate in my career. I worked for Donald Trump for 20 years, and he was amazingly respectful of me being an observant Jew,” he says.
“America is going through some challenges now, and religion is certainly part of that picture, even within certain religions, and certainly for those who don’t believe in religion or respect religion. But on an overall basis, in the course of my 26-year-plus career wherever I was, I was very fortunate that nobody ever held against me the fact that I observe Shabbat, that I observe kashrut. I found quite the opposite. People were respectful.”
“Never in a million years” did he expect to end up in a White House position.
Six years before Greenblatt became Trump’s Middle East envoy, he took his wife and kids on a family vacation to Washington DC and got to tour the White House.
“It would never have occurred to me. And even during the campaign when Donald Trump was running for president… even in the months leading up to him winning and then a few weeks later asking me to join him, I never would have thought it would happen. It was just an incredible blessing for me to be able to do it.”
Working for Trump for 20 years in the private sector and then almost three years in the White House, he got to know very well the “personable” and “warm” sides of the former president, the polar opposite from the way Trump is often portrayed by the media.
“[Trump is] very personable. First of all, he’s actually quite funny. Very warm. When my kids used to fly on his plane with him to Florida, he would walk up and down the aisles offering them snacks. He’d read the back of the package to determine whether or not it was kosher. He was always respectful to me, my wife and my kids,” Greenblatt says.
He remarks, “In 23 years, we got into just one disagreement. So all the nonsense that you’re hearing from the various books that are out there to attack him and how some in the news media portray him - that was not my experience. My experience was somebody who was decisive, someone who always had a thirst to get deals done, to make progress, didn’t like to take ‘no’ for an answer, but who also listened. So if I went into his office, whether in the private sector or at the White House, and he had some ideas that I disagreed with, I was able to air my thoughts. Sometimes he agreed, sometimes he didn’t agree, but he would listen to everyone before making a decision.”
Greenblatt notes that “probably the best way you could understand him was with the recognition of Jerusalem and moving the embassy to Jerusalem.”
They kept the decision very quiet until it was implemented, to avoid having it stymied by various interest groups.
“When we finally shared the news, the president got so many phone calls telling him, ‘You can’t do that. A war will break out if you try.’ But Trump has a way of reading a situation, taking advice and nevertheless being courageous,” Greenblatt says. “You had president after president who made promises to do it. Nobody kept their promise. He was the only one. He has the tenacity to get things done and to read the situation. And here we are several years later. He read the situation correctly.”
On the subject of Israel’s current government, Greenblatt says that while “it’s no secret I am a Bibi fan,” he doesn’t discount the job Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is doing so far.
“From what I’ve been seeing, I think Prime Minister Bennett has been doing a very solid job,” he says. “I have mixed feelings about the coalition but it seems to be working.”
Touching upon the Abraham Accords, which seem to have stalled in the Biden era, Greenblatt is still optimistic that other Arab nations will join, regardless of the Biden White House’s positioning on the deals.
“What I always say now is that these countries who want to join forces with Israel for security reasons, for economic reasons, for the sake of bringing warmth back into the region, to bring stability back into the region, that train has left the station and they don’t need the United States as the conductor anymore,” he explains.
“So I don’t want to blame the Biden administration for the lack of progress. I think it’s a bit premature.”
But he “thinks they are making some serious errors” in their Middle East policy.
On Iran, “until very recently they were so dead set on trying to re-enter the JCPOA [Iran nuclear deal]. I think that was a mistake.”
However, Greenblatt feels Biden’s people are finally becoming “a little more realistic” on the Iranian front.
Greenblatt notes that the Biden administration has alienated important allies, such as Saudi Arabia, whose support is needed for regional stability.
“How they treated Saudi Arabia was wrong. And it is treatment like that that causes more instability and fear in the region. I think their Middle East policy needs a lot more realism.”
He also calls the Biden administration plan to reopen the PA consulate in Jerusalem “a big mistake.”
“Just speaking plainly as an American, I don’t want my tax dollars going to open up another mission in a city that already has an embassy. There’s no reason to do that,” Greenblatt says. “They really need a reality check about the Palestinians. That doesn’t mean I’m anti-Palestinian. I’m not. It doesn’t mean I’m anti-peace. I’m not. But I think they have to treat the Palestinians not as children, which they often do. The Palestinians complain and therefore they give them this, they give them that. But they should demand a higher standard from the Palestinian leadership so the Palestinian people can have better lives and then, together with the Israelis, maybe they will be able to forge a path forward.”
He also comments that “the lack of peace isn’t because of settlements,” noting he does not like using the word “settlement” or the term “settler.”
“It is unfortunately the first thing out of any diplomat’s mouth and out of many politicians’ mouths - the so-called settlements and it’s just not true,” Greenblatt says. “Another things I’d like to point out is nobody talks about Palestinian construction. There are Palestinian 'settlements' too. But the focus is always on what Israel is doing.”
He adds: “Anybody who talks about it ought to visit and try to understand better, via meeting the people who live there. Stop calling them ‘settlers.' They’re Israelis. They’re amazing people. I think it is one of the least understood issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”