Jason Greenblatt, author of The Path of Abraham: How President Trump Made Peace in the Middle East - and How to Stop Joe Biden from Unmaking It, was Special Envoy to the Middle East under the Trump administration and chief architect of both the Peace to Prosperity plan and the Abraham Accords. He spoke to an August 5th Middle East Forum Webinar (video) about President Trump's approach to the Middle East.
Greenblatt said the Trump administration's outlook differed from other administrations because "we took the approach of telling the truth, instead of diplomacy." First, they stood by Israel "with unequivocal support," whereas other administrations prioritized "proportionality" regarding Israel's self-defense. Second, the Trump administration tied Iran to the Abraham Accords in response to complaints from Gulf partners who "felt abandoned by the Obama administration because of the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action]." The consensus was that Obama "put the region in significant danger."
The Biden administration's resuscitation of the JCPOA with an Iranian regime that "won't be compliant" will not end the regime's ability to build nuclear weapons, according to Greenblatt. The billions the administration might give Tehran will fuel global terrorism through the regime's proxies, including: Hezbollah in Lebanon; Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza and Israel's Judea and Samaria [West Bank]; and the Houthis in Yemen.
This novel approach enabled Israel to not only "protect itself," but also, through Ambassador Nikki Haley, to prevent other critics, especially the United Nations, from lambasting Israel for protecting itself. Another significant distinction between the Trump and earlier presidents is that his administration "refrained" from using the amorphous phrase "two-state solution" because it "means really nothing" and threatens Israel's security. Greenblatt sees a similar problem with the Iran deal in the danger of pursuing it at any cost while ignoring unaddressed serious threats.
Trump's administration disproved the myth that unless leaders resolved the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, no Arab states other than Egypt and Jordan would make peace with Israel. Greenblatt said that by removing the "Palestinian veto card" from the equation and establishing trust with the Gulf leadership, fear of Iranian aggression, and the Gulf states' diversification of their industries beyond oil, allowed the Arab states to see that Israel "could be a partner."
Gulf states, frustrated by their financial support of the Palestinians with little to show for it, understood the need to pursue their "national interest to protect both their security, as well as their economic opportunity." At the World Economic Forum in Davos, the United Arab Emirates [UAE] minister said that "trade between the UAE and Israel will grow to five billion dollars in the next several years." Taking advantage of this new reality, Trump's administration reinforced Gulf leaders' understanding that their ties to Israel "shouldn't be up to the Palestinians."
Greenblatt said the administration also laid out a plan "desperately trying to improve Palestinian lives," but the Palestinian leadership, refusing to even look at it, instead "disengaged from the U.S." He stressed the "misconception" that Palestinian leaders want to improve its people's lives. "It's not true," said; "they're purely focused on their political gains, their political wins." In the end, he said, "they prove themselves unwilling to negotiate in good faith."
Although Bibi Netanyahu "laid the groundwork" for the accords in tandem with U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, said Greenblatt, and Jared Kushner "was a key and influential figure" whom the Arab countries trusted, "none of this could have happened" without President Trump. There was a "very large minion" of global participants who exhibited "courageous leadership" by supporting the plan. Among them were Arab leaders, of whom the UAE's Ambassador to the U.S., Yousef Al Otaiba, was a "key player." The administration spoke "hard truths" that yielded results, Greenblatt added, but the main impetus behind President Trump's accomplishments, which included recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital, accepting Israeli sovereignty over the Golan, and moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, was that "by bucking the traditional thinking," the Trump administration produced the "historic" Abraham Accords.
Greenblatt worries that President Biden will "unwind" the Accords by entering into a "new Iran deal." During Biden's trip to Israel, it was a "mistake" for him to visit an East Jerusalem site without an Israeli host accompanying him, as it "undermines his compliance with the Jerusalem Embassy Act and the fact that Jerusalem is Israel's capital." Greenblatt doesn't "know of any other country that" Biden or anyone else would visit "unaccompanied by the country's host," which in effect was telling that host "you can't be here."
Another of Biden's errors, Greenblatt argued, was his wasting U.S. taxpayer money on UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency], a "broken and corrupt organization" that does "nothing to help Palestinian lives."
Greenblatt is hopeful that future Arab partners will normalize relations with Israel and sign onto the Abraham Accords, saying it could happen "in the not-too-distant future." He believes Saudi Arabia, which is undergoing rapid changes, should be thanked when it takes positive steps. "I focus more on ... the fact that they're willing to move in the proper direction and then eventually, maybe we get to that peace agreement that everybody is so excited to finally see."
Marilyn Stern is communications coordinator at the Middle East Forum.