Wednesday, Sep 21, 2022

Jason Greenblatt: Biden Not Following in the ‘Path of Abraham’

Jason Greenblatt, an architect of the Abraham Accords whose book is titled, In the Path of Abraham: How Donald Trump Made Peace in the Middle East — and How to Stop Joe Biden from Unmaking It, says that Biden’s recent trip to the region proves he is not following in the tried-and-true pathway to peace.

“I think they’re trying,” said Greenblatt, who had been the chief legal officer of The Trump Organization for nearly 20 years before he left to take the job in President Trump’s administration, “but the problem is that I also think they’re making many mistakes in terms of how they are trying.”

The Yated interviewed Greenblatt in December when his book’s publishing date was announced, the first media outlet to secure an interview. Since the book was released on June 21, it was granted rare praise from virtually all the key players in the region, including Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and top officials from Israel and the Arab nations who signed onto the Abraham Accords.

“Endorsements comes from all sides — the Arabs, Israel, very senior officials in the Trump administration,” he said. “It’s been very favorably received by so many people.”

I looked through the list and it is indeed impressive. President Trump urged people to “read Jason’s book to learn about his essential work and to understand how the Trump Administration created peace in the Middle East.” Pence said there were “few people better positioned to reflect on those accomplishments and contemplate the possibilities of future successes” than Greenblatt. Jared Kushner, who led the team working on the Accords, called it a “must-read,”

He has approbations from other potential presidential candidates, such as former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, who called the Abraham Accords “an amazing legacy for a small group of people, including Jason Greenblatt.”

 

Last time we spoke, we focused on the first half of the title of your book, “In the Path of Abraham,” how the Abraham Accords came about. Now, I want to focus on the other half of the title, “How to Stop Joe Biden from Unmaking It.” In his Middle East trip last week, he seems to have acknowledged for the first time the good that the Abraham Accords has brought to the region. Did you think this is a policy change?

For the first year after the Abraham Accords, they wouldn’t even use the name Abraham Accords. They desperately tried to avoid using it and giving President Trump credit for the historic achievement. After the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, I think they realized that this is something that they can and should build up. So over the past year or so, they’ve been saying that they would build on it. I think they’re trying, but the problem is that I also think they’re making many mistakes in terms of how they are trying.

 

Let’s first talk about how they are trying. Aside for talking to the media how they want to expand it — perhaps with getting Saudi Arabia on board — are they trying on a deeper level?

It’s an excellent question. Certainly, they have been trying to support it in the media. Nobody really knows what’s going on behind closed doors, so I don’t want to say that they’re not actually trying behind closed doors. But it’s a fair question to ask — what are they doing other than saying nice things in the media? I don’t know the answer to that.

 

The underpinnings of the Abraham Accords were to get away from what has been traditional US policy until then, which is that without a two-state solution, nothing can happen in the Middle East. Given that President Biden insisted on inserting this phrase into his speech — that even though Israel doesn’t agree, but he believes in the two-state solution — this shouts out that without a settlement with the Palestinians, peace will not happen in the region. Doesn’t this undermine the entire Abraham Accords?

Right. I think we’re seeing two types of that kind of messaging. First of all, when Secretary of State Blinken went to the Negev Summit, where Israel and the Arab countries that signed the Abraham Accords, as well as some others, were present, it was an historic summit. But then Secretary Blinken decided to reintroduce the Palestinians into the conversation by saying something along the lines of — “the Abraham Accords can’t be a substitute for Israeli-Palestinian peace.” This shows a lack of understanding of exactly what we achieved, which was that we removed the veto card from the Palestinians. Yes, of course, while we hope that eventually, maybe one day there’ll be peace between Israel and the Palestinians, that has absolutely nothing to do with the Abraham Accords.

And then, as you say, President Biden kept on referring to the two-state solution during his visit to Israel. I think what we’ve shown is, that doesn’t mean anything. Those words are empty words. Without very, very heavy details, everybody thinks they mean different things. And I think again, he’s just trying to mix up the issues. If the Palestinians are not ready to negotiate in good faith, then leave them alone and just continue with the Abraham Accords.

 

Do you read anything into Biden’s trip to Bais Lechem and meeting with Mahmoud Abbas? Or would you just say that it was so devoid of policy that it’s meaningless?

Very little policy was discussed, but I do think he also continued to tell them that he was going to try to keep some of his promises to them. It is a question of whether he can actually act on them or not, though he probably won’t be able to.

But, second to the meeting with President Abbas, I think we should pay close attention to his visit to the East Jerusalem hospital. I think it was a really important error on their part when they specifically said that Israel can’t accompany them to the East Jerusalem hospital. There is no country in the world where a president would go to and insist that the host country not attend a meeting or accompany them.

So while President Biden’s team was saying that it wasn’t a political visit, that it was a personal visit — because President Biden believes in health care for all, obviously — there’s no way that that was not a political signal. They are trying to make the Palestinian leadership happy, which is exactly how we got into this problem over the decades. Signals like these don’t make peace; they don’t make people feel better. They, frankly, drive peace further away.

 

Regarding the second leg, the more important leg, of Biden’s trip, to Saudi Arabia, it was mostly about oil and the fist bump. Did that move the needle anywhere, with Saudi Arabia perhaps joining the Abraham Accords?

President Biden made a lot of tactical errors in the past with respect to Saudi Arabia — calling them a pariah, saying there was little redeeming social value in Saudi Arabia — and he found himself now having to go to Saudi Arabia begging for oil. He wouldn’t even admit that he was going there for oil and he wouldn’t even admit that he was meeting the crown prince. He was trying to fool the American public by saying that he’s attending a summit that maybe the crown prince will be attending. But of course, everybody knew he was there to meet the crown prince.

I don’t think Saudi Arabia is ready yet to enter into the Accords. They know that strategically it’s better for themselves and the region to partner with Israel, but we need to give them the time and the space to let them do it in their own way.

One way, for example, is the opening of airspace to all flights, which of course includes flights emanating from Israel. They’re saying it has nothing to do with the Abraham Accords. And that’s okay, they could say that, but the reality is that Israel now has overflight rights. Other than the narrow corridors they had after the Abraham Accords were signed to fly to and from Bahrain and UAE, they didn’t have this before. And I think Saudi Arabia should be commended.

I saw a clip yesterday where a Saudi Arabian official was saying that for sports tournaments and events, “everyone” will be allowed to participate. I think the underlying message there is that it is including Israel. None of that has been done in practice yet, but we need to be grateful as they take each step. We should focus not so much on Saudi Arabia entering into the Abraham Accords, but on every positive step where Israel and Saudi Arabia work together, even behind closed doors. These are things we should encourage and be happy about.

 

It seems like you’re saying that we should be satisfied with incremental progress, even though the rest of the Abraham Accords came together in one fell swoop.

Look, these are different countries. Saudi Arabia is a much, much bigger country. They’ve been designated the Keeper of the Holy Mosques for Muslims. The education of their population is very, very different than the Emirates and Bahrain. So I don’t know that it’s realistic that it will happen overnight, especially in a world where the Biden administration has alienated Saudi Arabia until this visit.

The Biden administration also seems to still want to go back into the JCPOA, the Iran deal, which is a tremendous danger to Saudi Arabia. Under the current circumstances, we’re not preparing the ground properly for Saudi Arabia to enter into the Abraham Accords. So for the moment, I would just be satisfied with step-by-step interactions, and if and when there’s a completely new position with respect to Saudi Arabia and the Iran deal, perhaps that’s the time when Saudi Arabia might be able to enter into the Abraham Accords.

And if not, then I’m perfectly satisfied with a step-by-step approach.

 

Let me give you a scenario. Imagine you have a president who provides Saudi Arabia with the political cushion necessary to make politically difficult decisions and he shows them that he’s out for their interests and will not undermine them such as with Iran. And this president comes to Saudi Arabia, and the Saudis decide to offer him a gesture by recognizing Israel. Is that somebody that is totally out of whack or can it happen under the right circumstances?

I think under the right circumstances it could happen. I think that if President Trump, for example, had a second term it might have happened. We’ll have to see what the next administration is like. But I don’t think the likelihood is high under Joe Biden, unless he has a completely changed approach to the region, to Saudi Arabia in particular, and especially with respect to Iran.

 

Do you see the dream team which crafted the Abraham Accords coming together again under a potential second Trump administration? Jared Kushner is involved in business now. You left already during the Trump administration. David Friedman is busy with his own things. The team has dispersed. Can you get together again? Will the Accords be a focus again of a future Trump administration or of any president who would have the same vision for the region?

I think that any president should have its focus on the Middle East. As much as people want to remove themselves from the Middle East, it’s really impossible. So whether it’s President Trump or someone else, I think they will heavily focus on the Middle East and partner with our partners the way they should, which is very different than the Biden administration acted until this recent trip — and I’m not sure even now how serious he is about partnering with these countries.

I think they will bring in — actually, I hope they would bring in — a team that respects the Middle East and respects both the positives there and the potential danger there, and work very hard to continue building on the Abraham Accords.

 

You sound pessimistic about anything happening until the end of the Biden administration.

The Biden administration is preoccupied with what’s going on here. We have galloping-away inflation. We have the war in Ukraine. We have a very difficult time with the labor force, where people don’t want to work. So there are so many things that they’re working on; I’m not sure they’ll have the time and the bandwidth to focus on the Middle East other than in a perfunctory way.

But we have to wait to see how it unfolds. I think the trip he took certainly was a step in the right direction. He turned maybe one page in the chapter with Saudi Arabia at least, but he has many, many, more pages and several more chapters before he gets on the right side of Saudi Arabia.

 

How are book sales going? I don’t know if you timed this, but you and David Friedman came out with books at around the same time.

Thank G-d, book sales are going great. I’ve had some great, great press. David’s book came out in February. I think that while we overlapped in so many ways, the books are very different. So I would encourage anybody who is interested in Israel and in the Middle East generally to read both. We may be very similar in terms of our political views, but I think the books are actually quite different.

 

One last question. If a different president — or even Trump — gets elected and makes you an offer, would you consider rejoining the administration? I understand that you left early last time since it was very hectic for your family, and people would understand if you wouldn’t want to do it again, but what would you say if offered the opportunity?

Well, it was hectic, but given the same choice of working to continue to build relationships and to seek peace, it would be very tough for me to say no.

 

 

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