Jason Greenblatt gave me a candid and very personal podcast interview in which he compared his departure From the White House to the Eagles’ hit song, Hotel California: “you can checkout anytime you like, but you can never leave”.
In an interview on Donald Trump’s Deal of the Century recorded this week for my podcast, Jonny Gould’s Jewish State, Mr. Greenblatt, who co-authored the “Peace to Prosperity” plan with Jared Kushner, President Trump‘s son-in-law and the US Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, said that his “heart and soul were touched by the people of the region, Israelis, Palestinians and Arabs, both in leadership and ordinary people”.
Mr. Greenblatt outlined his vision in laying out the plan to me. He said: “It’s an opportunity for the next generation of everybody in the region. Israelis, Palestinians and all of the countries that surround them”.
He lives with his wife Naomi and their six children in Teaneck, New Jersey and says his orthodox Jewish practice has helped rather than hindered in building bridges with potential peace partners.
“I’m often asked if three Orthodox Jews were the right choice for this and I would argue it’s quite the opposite; religion is so important in this region that my being a religious person is only enhanced and I was only shown tremendous respect. For them to find me a private place to pray and put on my tefillin, catering for my kosher dietary requirements also including, by the way, with the Palestinian Authority, who went out of their way to make sure that I was properly fed. I understand when they had to go pray as well, like there’s an unspoken understanding between me and them about how important religion and family are, for that matter, what it means to us and why it’s important to solve this conflict. So I feel blessed that I had the opportunity. I think my being religious was not a negative but a positive, but that doesn’t mean that those who aren’t religious couldn’t also play a significant role or perhaps even solve it”.
In February this year, he joined the board of Our Crowd, a crowdfunding platform aimed at investing in projects in the Middle East, but says he’s in regular contact with diplomats and politicians he got to know during his years in Washington, “so I spend a lot of time still talking about the conflict with all my contacts and still trying to help a little where I can”.
The podcast also has interview clips about the Trump Peace Plan from previous episodes in my series, including with former commander of British Forces in Afghanistan, Col. Richard Kemp, Sgt. Benjamin Anthony, CEO of the MirYam Institute, Jordan’s self-styled Palestinian opposition leader, Mudar Zahran and President Trump’s short-lived former communications director, Anthony Scaramucci.
There is also an exchange at the UK’s Prime Minister‘s question time between Boris Johnson and former Labour opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn at the time of the peace plan’s unveiling in January.
Mr. Johnson, referring to Mr. Corbyn’s “characteristically negative” view of the conflict means I don’t have to. Corbyn’s free use of phrases like “illegal colonisation”, “deny fundamental rights” and “the transfer of Palestinian citizens of Israel” are fast-becoming the discredited language of the Antizionist echo chamber.
Indeed, definitions and words are powerful in political discourse and in the Israeli Palestinian conflict they seem to be redoubled. I talk about the word, “annexation”, which Mr. Greenblatt prefers to call, “application of Israeli law” and “settlements”, more like neighbourhoods, “where kids go to school and play soccer in the street”, he told me.
The podcast concludes with Mr. Greenblatt’s own reflections on being a first-generation American given this special responsibility. His father and mother only arrived in the US in 1941 and 1956 respectively. They were penniless Jewish immigrants, victims of both Nazism and Communism and he marvels at the chances his country has given him.
He said: “To be given this tremendous opportunity to try to help improve the lives of millions and millions of people, I think that if my grandparents in Hungary saw that path, they never, ever would have believed it, so I consider myself extraordinarily fortunate to have grown up in the United States of America.
On the coronavirus pandemic and civil disturbances brought about by the death of George Floyd in Minnesota, Mr. Greenblatt added: “Like so many countries, we are going through some challenging times at the moment and I think my outlook at what is going on is heavily shaped by the experience that I know the prior generation of mine in Europe faced, and how fortunate I was to grow up here in this blessed country”.
As Yaakov Lappin, military affairs correspondent and analyst at the Begin Sadat Centre at Bar Ilan university and in-house analyst with MirYam Institute told me, the plan changes the language and definitions of previous peace proposals and forges the basis of future negotiations on a firmer footing.
So much of the search for peace is in the belief that it could actually be achieved and Mr. Greenblatt’s steadfast belief in his Trump plan reflects that.
And as Theodore Herzl, the father of modern Zionism wrote in Old New Land, “If you will it, it is no dream.”
“Jonny Gould’s Jewish State” is available wherever you get your podcasts, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, SoundCloud and Stitcher.