On September 15, 2020, after signing of the Abraham Accords at the Trump White House with leaders of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that Israel would “see the fruits of these agreements very quickly, but they will be with us for generations. Everyone who was there understood that we made a historic turning point for the State of Israel and for peace.”
Fifteen months later, Donald Trump is no longer president of the United States and Mr. Netanyahu no longer is prime minister. A rift has developed between the two former leaders, both men openly bitter about their loss of the highest seat of power in their respective nations.
Nevertheless, Mr. Netanyahu’s words so far have proven true. The fruits of the agreement indeed were quick to blossom and heralded an almost unimaginable sea change in the Middle East.
But in his forthcoming book, Jason Dov Greenblatt of Teaneck writes that the carefully crafted achievement could unravel under the present administration.
A real-estate attorney by profession, Mr. Greenblatt worked for Mr. Trump in various capacities since 1997, capped by a stint as the White House special envoy to the Middle East from 2017 to 2019.
He was one of the architects of the administration’s Mideast peace plan and as he worked for presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner, who has deep roots in north Jersey and grew up in Livingston, he helped lay the foundation for the Abraham Accords.
Now available for pre-order on Amazon before its release on June 21, 2022, “In the Path of Abraham: How Donald Trump Made Peace in the Middle East — and How to Stop Joe Biden from Unmaking It” is to be published by Post Hill Press imprint Wicked Son and distributed by Simon & Schuster.
“It is not a book of gossip; I don’t tell tales out of school. It is a book about who we were, what we learned along the way, and why we did what we did,” Mr. Greenblatt said.
Jason Greenblatt and his wife, Dr. Naomi Greenblatt, have lived in Teaneck for about 20 years and are members of Congregation Keter Torah. They have six children, including 23-year-old triplets and an 18- a 15-, and a 10-year-old.
Below is a slightly edited version our Q&A with Mr. Greenblatt about his book, his nearly three years of experience as a religiously observant Jew in the White House, and what he’s doing now.
Jewish Standard: The book’s subtitle places it at a specific junction in world history. Wasn’t it risky to package your advice to the Biden administration in a book that is not coming out till June, when events may be quite different?
Jason Greenblatt: It’s a fair question that I struggled with a bit. I know that things could change. But there is a low probability that a foreign policy book that has anything of value to say about current affairs can stay evergreen because of the onward march of history. My book addresses a specific set of circumstances that exists today.
It is a call to action to alert people to pay attention to the very real danger of how the policies of the current administration could undo some or many of the positive things the Trump administration did to make portions of the Middle East more peaceful, more stable, and more secure — especially if they reflexively return to the failed policies of the past.
JS: What are some specific examples of how you feel the Biden administration may derail the progress made by the Abraham Accords?
JG: First and foremost, I worry about how the Biden administration has treated some of its allies in the region. I don’t want to accuse the Biden administration of being anti-Israel. That would be unfair. But members of the administration often say things that are not fully accurate or fully supportive.
They are also falling into old traps when it comes to setting policies with regard to the Palestinians, giving them huge sums of money, which do not ultimately benefit ordinary Palestinians in meaningful ways and have no real benefit to the U.S. taxpayer.
Reopening the consulate in Jerusalem is also an incorrect decision for numerous reasons. It is certainly not in the spirit of the Jerusalem Embassy Act, and some would argue it violates it.
Multiple remarks made by the administration, including by President Biden himself, regarding Saudi Arabia are very unhelpful and show a misunderstanding of the importance of Saudi Arabia as a friend and ally of the United States, and for the security and stability of the Middle East and beyond.
Perhaps most important is the current administration’s approach to the Iranian regime — not only its nuclear threat, which of course is extremely serious, but how its tentacles throughout the region and beyond cause significant malign activity and terrorism.
None of these policies from the Biden administration helps achieve peace, and I would argue they deter peace. Many in the region are nervous about what appears to be a lack of serious commitment to the security and stability of our friends and allies there.
JS: During your work on behalf of the White House, how did your approach and personality synch with those of Jared Kushner?
JG: I think our personalities synched well. We are both calm and analytical, we are friends and we both had a very strong personal connection to the Trump family — he as the president’s son-in-law and me as someone who worked with President Trump for two decades in the private sector. There was a level of trust between us that is sometimes very difficult to find in Washington, D.C.
Jared also had a very important leadership skill: the ability to stay optimistic even under significant challenges. If there were days or weeks where things were looking like they were heading in the wrong direction, he had this way of using his incredibly strong optimistic attitude and getting everyone to row back in the right direction.
As to approach, there were many things we agreed on, and some things we may have viewed differently. But we always worked through those differences respectfully and thoughtfully.
JS: How did your experience as an Orthodox Jew in Teaneck color your approach to the pursuit of peace among Israel and its neighbors?
JG: My wife and I were blessed to raise six children in this wonderful community. The way we raised our children, which we think reflects the values we see in Teaneck and its neighboring towns, is the way I pursued peace with Israel’s neighbors.
We taught our children to walk tall as Jews, to be proud of what Judaism stands for and what they stand for as a Jews, to be active in our community and to be strong supporters of the Jewish State of Israel.
We also taught them to develop deep and meaningful friendships with others who may be very different from us, because we can and must learn from those who are not like us. We can be friends with and work with people even if we disagree on many things, even fundamental things.
That is the approach I took at the White House and how we began to develop bonds and friendships, and how I traveled the long, complicated, difficult road of peace.
JS: Can you relate any anecdotes that reflect on what it was like to be an observant Jew in the Trump administration?
JG: Prior to the White House, I was fortunate to have had very positive working experiences as an observant Jew. I started my career at a law firm — Fried, Frank — which was very respectful to observant Jews. Then I was very fortunate to work for Mr. Trump before he became president. He and his family were incredibly respectful of me being observant.
That respect and accommodation easily transitioned through to the White House. All my colleagues at the White House, and indeed all those within the U.S. government, were always respectful and accommodating of my religious needs.
But I will take it a step further — throughout the Arab world, whether in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, Morocco, Jordan, Egypt and elsewhere, and including the Palestinians, I was received with warmth and respect as a proud observant Jew.
People don’t realize how many similarities we have with those who live in the Middle East. God, religion, and family are central to most people there, whether they are observant of their faith tradition or not.
When I traveled as a White House official to the Arab countries, I used to say that it felt as though I was visiting distant cousins and that it was “time to bring the family back together again.” So many of the people I met in these societies shared that view.
Some other memorable moments include having Prime Minister Netanyahu help make a minyan in his office when I had to say kaddish for my mother’s yahrzeit; and the places I prayed with tefillin on, including Air Force 1 and 2, Saudi Arabia, and other Arab countries.
JS: What led to your resignation in 2019?
JG: Though I had not set a specific time period when I agreed to join President Trump at the White House, in my mind I was prepared to stay for about two years. I lived apart from my wife and six children when I was in Washington. We only saw one another over Shabbat and part of Sunday.
My family knew it was a blessing to be able to serve at the White House, and that it really was both a responsibility and an obligation. When you couple that with working on strengthening the U.S.-Israel relationship, helping to set policies relating to Israel and working on peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors, it was not even a question.
But I would not be telling the truth if I told you it does not take its toll on a family, certainly one separated like ours, emotionally and financially. I ended up staying most of a third year to make sure my work was done. We learned and studied what we needed to study, we developed all the relationships, I was a chief architect of the peace plan President Trump released between Israel and the Palestinians and Israel and its Arab neighbors. I was one of the people who helped set the stage for what ultimately became the Abraham Accords. The plan was mostly completed before I left. Then it became a question of time. Would there be an opportunity to release the plan? Would any of the Arab countries actually normalize with Israel? In addition, Israel went through an unprecedented number of elections, which further compounded the issue.
At some point I had to say to President Trump and Jared that it was time for me to return to Teaneck to become a husband and father again. A real one, not one that lived 250 miles away and was often in the Middle East, many times zones away, for extended periods. It was time to go home.
JS: You now host a Newsweek podcast, “The Diplomat.” What is its goal?
JG: While at the White House, I had the unique opportunity to speak to all kinds of people about some very difficult, controversial topics. I always did that with an open mind and an open heart. For the most part, my audiences listened with open hearts and open minds, even if they had significant disagreements with me over our policies regarding Israel, the Palestinians, the Middle East, Donald Trump, or other topics.
After I left the White House, I wanted to continue to work on bridging the divide between Israel and its Arab neighbors, as well bridging the continuously growing divide here in the United States. I was looking for an opportunity to continue to speak with all kinds of people on a wide range of issues and to listen to them and allow them to spread their thoughts in a meaningful way.
When Newsweek and I discussed the possibility of using Newsweek as a platform to do this, I was very excited. The Diplomat podcast allows me to listen, learn, educate, and allow others to take action. Perhaps most important, it allows me, and hopefully my listeners, to try to build bridges between the gaps.
I have had some great guests so far, including political leaders such as Mike Pompeo, Nikki Haley, and Joe Lieberman. Tony Blair is an upcoming guest. I’ve had business leaders and numerous journalists on the podcast, including from the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, and many more. We have covered topics such as Lebanon, Afghanistan, Bahrain — a live event which took place at Yeshiva University — Saudi Arabia, censorship on university campuses, Miss Universe and more.
JS: What is next for Jason Greenblatt? Will you do a book tour?
JG: I hope to continue to connect Israeli and American companies with countries and companies in the Arab world. It is very fulfilling work, and very much an outgrowth of seeing that these societies are interested in working together, doing business with one another and developing friendships with one another.
I do hope to do a book tour; I think that so many people don’t really understand today’s Middle East but want to. So many around the world are interested in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and people are, rightly so, fans of the Abraham Accords. This book will give them insight into all these matters, into our attempts to build bridges between Israel and its Arab neighbors, into our policies of deeply strengthening the relationship between the United States and Israel and the United States and some of its Arab allies.