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U.S. presidents have long tried, and failed, to resolve the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In June, President Trump’s team unveiled the first part of its peace plan, an economic proposal. The plan’s all-important political component is yet to come. Judy Woodruff speaks with Jason Greenblatt, a former Trump real estate lawyer helping lead the U.S. effort, about what’s at stake.
The role of the United States in mediating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is almost as old and as complex as the conflict itself.
American presidents have tried, failed, and tried again to bring an end to the standoff. Last month, President Trump's team began rolling out the first part of its two-stage peace plan: the economic component unveiled at a conference in Bahrain. The all-important political plan is yet to come.
Jason Greenblatt is one of the men leading the U.S. effort, along with presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner. He's a former real estate lawyer for Mr. Trump turned negotiator, focused on some of the most prized and fraught land in the world.
I spoke with him this morning.
Jason Greenblatt, thank you very much for talking with us.
Thank you for having me.
So, despite multiple efforts over the decades, there has not been a mutually agreed on peace plan in the Middle East since Jimmy Carter, the Camp David peace accords, Menachem Begin, Anwar Sadat. That was 40 years ago.
What makes you believe that now is the time and the right moment for a peace plan that works?
I think we're at a unique time in history. We have a unique president, who is not afraid to speak his mind. We have a region that actually wants to incorporate Israel into the neighborhood.
I think people are tired of the conflict. I think everyone wants better lives for the Palestinians, but everyone is also willing to acknowledge the many, many challenges that exists to give them better lives to improve everything.
You have divided this into an economic plan and a political plan.
And, as you know, some of the critics are already saying what you have simply done is swap the idea of land for peace with money for peace.
How do you respond to that?
We fully understands the Palestinians do not want an economic peace. They deserve much more than an economic peace.
It's unrealistic to expect that an economic peace could have ever worked. But no matter how many times we say that, the manipulators, the people who want to undermine our efforts will just keep using that talking point.
So, I will say very clearly, there is no economic peace without an acceptable political solution to both sides.
So, at this point, Palestinian leaders have not only not expressed interest. They are actively — they say they are actively against this.
You have talked about it needing grassroots support. Who is going to lead that grassroots support? Can you name anyone in the Palestinian community who has come forward and said, I want to talk to you about this?
I meet countless Palestinians here in the region. They know I'm very active on Twitter. And no matter how great the meeting goes — and almost all of them are great, even if they are tough discussions about U.S. policy — they always plead with me when I leave: "Please do not tweet about our meeting. Please do not tell who you met with."
And I have to respect that. When they go home, they are afraid, and that's unfortunate.
What the critics say is that, when you look at what this administration has done with regard to Israel — and I'm just going to tick off a few things, all the — they say all the core demands of Israel's right wing have been implemented, U.S. aid to Palestine have been slashed, including U.S. support for the U.N. Agency for Palestinian Refugees, Jerusalem declared as Israel's capital, Palestinian diplomatic missions closed in Washington, and U.S. missions closed in the West Bank and Gaza.
So how do Palestinians see this as a time when the Trump administration is even willing to give them any benefit of the doubt?
When I speak to these ordinary Palestinians, I explain to them that they have to view these decisions through a United States lens, not through a peace process lens.
Jerusalem, for example, was a law since 1995 that every presidential candidate promised to do, recognize — both recognize Jerusalem as the capital and move the embassy. Nobody actually followed through on that promise until President Trump.
The United Nations relief, UNRWA, it's a broken system. It keeps Palestinians living in these refugee camps in a suffering condition with no possible future. So it's a bit unfair for the critics to say that, because of those decisions, we don't care about Palestinians.
What rights do you believe the Palestinians deserve to have?
It's — rights is a big word.
I mean, I think our hope is to give Palestinians as great a life as the Israeli have — as the Israelis have, with everybody in the region being secure, as secure as possible.
I think Mr. Kushner has referred to — has said that he supports Palestinian self-determination. What does that mean?
I don't want to get ahead of the plan.
Every — one of the decisions we made strategically is not to disclose any element of the plan, because then people will start attacking each element of the plan.
But suffice it to say that, in the roughly 60 pages of the plan, that question is answered. And our goal is to give the Palestinians everything possible with respect to that and anything else, so long as Israel's security is not affected in a negative way.
Is there still a possibility of a two-state solution here?
The reason we don't use that term is, you can't take a complex — a conflict as complex as this and boil it down to those three words.
So we have avoided the slogan, if you will. But the 60-page plan will address everything, including that question. And we have very carefully designed this plan to give everybody as much freedom as possible, but without compromising on security for anybody.
Let me come back to the Israelis.
What responsibility do the Israelis bear for the current state of affairs in the Middle East?
I think that Israel is actually more the victim than the party that's responsible.
From the moment of its formation, they were attacked multiple times. They continue to be attacked with terrorism. So — I'm not sure I understand the premise of the question.
I think that they're trying their best to succeed. They have actually succeeded in many ways, especially economically, under very, very trying circumstances.
So you don't — you don't see mistakes they have made, places where they have overstepped their authority?
Nobody's perfect, right?
I can't think of single instances. But I think even our great country has made mistakes over the years. And, over time, you try to correct those mistakes. But I think Israel is doing the best that it possibly can under very challenging circumstances.
As you know, Prime Minister Netanyahu has floated the idea of annexing the West Bank settlements. Is this something the United States could support?
I don't even like the word settlements. I think it's a pejorative term. I use the term neighborhoods and cities.
But I'm not going to get into a political discussion. I don't do it with President Abbas when he talks about his talking points, '67 borders and all that. Let's wait until we show the political plan.
Some people do believe Israel is headed toward a one-state, quasi — a one-state.
I'm not sure that there are many people that think that a one-state is good for either side.
Our plan does not contemplate one state. I think, if it did, we would have released it over two years ago.
But I think that one of the challenges of this file, as people speak about the West Bank, Judea and Samaria as being occupied, I would argue that the land is disputed. It needs to be resolved in the context of direct negotiations between the parties. Calling it occupied territory does not help resolve the conflict.
President Trump, how does he look on this peace process, how it's going so far?
I think he understands the reality and the complexity of the situation.
He has great credibility among the Israeli public. He had throughout 2017 strong credibility among Palestinians. Obviously, that's been eroded because of U.S. policy.
But he has great credibility among all the leaders in the region, other than the Palestinian leadership.
And when do you think we will see the political proposal?
The president will make his decision soon.
It's no secret that, when the Israelis had to go to a second election, that sort of threw us off a little bit. We haven't yet decided whether we release the plan before or after the Israeli elections, if it's after the Israeli elections, before or after the government is formed. We're still evaluating that.
And the president has not yet made his decision.
What is at stake here, ultimately? What does it mean if you're not able to get this done, and it continues as it is now in region?
To me, the most important — the two most important things, one Israel, one Palestinian.
On the Israeli side, they will continue to be in a risky security situation. And the United States, certainly under President Trump, will always support them and watch their back.
For the Palestinians, it would be tragic, both not just the Palestinians in the West Bank, Judea, Samaria, but also in Gaza. I mean, the Palestinians in Gaza are suffering terribly.
So what's at stake is, the next generation of kids are going to continue to suffer. And that would be terrible.
Jason Greenblatt, thank you very much.
Thank you. Thank you so much.
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