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Peace advocates have seen encouraging signs out of President Trump representative Jason Greenblatt, “I think we’ve been positively impressed with the foundation that he’s laid,” said Jessica Rosenblum, the vice president of communications for J Street, which describes itself as a “pro-Israel, pro-peace” advocacy group.
“What’s impressed me about Mr. Greenblatt’s early forays into Middle East diplomacy is his interest and willingness to listen to a broad range of voices,” said Daniel Shapiro, who served as President Barack Obama’s ambassador in Tel Aviv between 2011 and January of this year. “He seems to understand that the success or failure of Middle East peace efforts is not going to depend only on the decisions of the leaders.”
Greenblatt began working at the Trump Organization in 1997, after a career that included time as a real estate lawyer for a New York-based firm and a short-lived foray into the cappuccino-making business. Over the next two decades, the Yeshiva University and New York University law school graduate would work his way up to executive vice president and chief legal officer at the Trump Organization. As one of the top lawyers in the company, Greenblatt oversaw due diligence, contracting, and other legal dimensions of Trump’s real estate deals, Greenblatt is an observant Jew and tweeted a photo of his tefillin bag while en route to the Middle East in March. As Greenblatt told me during an interview last July, Trump respected his religious observance and always wished him a restful Shabbat even when a tough negotiation came up against the weekend holiday.
Greenblatt has already met with Abbas in Ramallah, in the West Bank, on March 14 as part of a wide-ranging listening tour to Israel and the Palestinian territories and then met with him a second time at an Arab League summit in Amman, Jordan, later that month.
A former Trump Organization chief legal officer, Greenblatt has the official title of the White House’s representative for international negotiations, unofficially he’s the administration’s Middle East peace envoy, if an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal is reached during the Trump administration, it will be Greenblatt who earned his new position by virtue of his personal relationship with the president.
Trump’s envoy approached the region with fresh eyes and won fans on both sides of the Green Line as a result, Greenblatt’s closeness to Trump and his lack of previous diplomatic experience are actually starting to look like assets, Greenblatt’s listening tour in March took him to places that few other people in his position have been, Jalazone refugee camp, outside of Ramallah, where he met with local youth leaders, no American Middle East envoy had visited a West Bank refugee camp since the early 1990s.
Greenblatt met with a range of political and civil society figures in the West Bank, as well as a “cross section of folks from Gaza,” which is currently under the control of the U.S.-designated terrorist group Hamas.
Later that month, he attended an Arab League summit in Amman, a relative rarity for a senior American official, at the summit, he had a second meeting with Abbas, whom he has reportedly impressed, and sat down with a number of Arab foreign ministers.
Greenblatt’s visits with Israelis displayed a similar broad-mindedness, he met with settlers, generals, and students and tweeted a picture with Gershon Edelstein, the head of the Ponevezh Yeshiva, one of the most respected religious academies in Orthodox Judaism.
Someone more conscious of the diplomatic convention, working for a more cautious or traditional administration, might have veered away from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict’s thornier territory during a first official visit to the region. And a more traditional diplomat might not have seen the public diplomacy value in dropping by the Ponevezh fresh off a visit to a Palestinian refugee camp — or of visiting either place at all.
The number 14 represents deliverance or salvation and is used twenty-two times in the Bible.
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