| A Few Minutes With |

A Few Minutes with Jason Greenblatt

Greenblatt spoke with Mishpacha about the Biden administration’s failures, what a Trump administration would do differently, and his experiences on October 7

“If we were in power now,” pledges Jason Greenblatt, former White House special envoy to the Middle East in the Trump administration, “our support for Israel would be clear and unequivocal. Without games. We would understand the situation as it is: The State of Israel is fighting an existential war against a terrorist organization that has vowed to destroy it.”

Greenblatt may get the chance to back up those words, if current polling trends hold up, and Trump’s personal animosity for Binyamin Netanyahu doesn’t get in the way. But having accrued many a frequent flier mile trying to find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as Trump’s Middle Eastern envoy, Greenblatt hopes to play a constructive role in any event. His book In the Path of Abraham, published in 2022, documents his efforts to advance the “deal of the century.” The Abraham Accords, in which he took an active role, were the crowning glory.

Greenblatt spoke with Mishpacha about the Biden administration’s failures, what a Trump administration would do differently, and his experiences on October 7.

The clear support that President Joe Biden voiced for Israel in the days after the October 7 massacre gave us all hope. Eight months later, it turns out that you can’t win battles with speeches. What’s your take?

I, like everyone else, praised President Biden for many weeks after October 7, in every interview I gave to the media. At first, he was very deserving of it. It’s very important for us to express our hakaras hatov for what he has done. Give credit where credit is due. There is no doubt that his firm stance in support of Israeli has contributed to our receiving additional support from other places.

Unfortunately, over the past few weeks, he’s made a lot of mistakes, including decisions that are dangerous. Although he is still doing very important things, like committing US Navy assistance in repelling the unprecedented attack from Iran, and providing military cooperation with Israel, which has been excellent —we definitely have to firmly object to his recent decision to withhold ammunition from the IDF to pressure Israel not to go into Rafah.

It’s hard to overstate how bewildered many people in Israel were over this. This really turned a new page.

This is a deep betrayal of one of America’s most important allies. The Biden administration has abandoned Israel, plain and simple. You can’t illustrate it any other way. We cannot evade the bitter truth.

Moreover, I don’t see how this serves American interests, in the long term. What Biden is doing is showing the world that the United States is not a faithful ally, and that it cannot be trusted anymore. If America turns its back on Israel, whose friendship and ties are so strong, then what are other US allies supposed to say?

A lot of American Jews are appalled as well, are they not? Especially against the backdrop of what’s happening at the universities.

The administration has also done too little with regards to the anti-Semitism that is being openly displayed in campus demonstrations. In my view, President Biden and his staff are still spending too much time thinking that the “peace” with the Palestinians — what they call the “two-state solution” — is possible. They don’t realize that right now, we are further from that than ever before. These are just a few examples of the significant mistakes that Biden has made in recent months. We have to criticize him for it, because these are issues that are crucial to the security of Israel.

What would you have done differently, if you were still in office?

As I said, the first difference would have been that we would have been much clearer and more assertive in our support for Israel, on all fronts. We would not have qualified it in any way. We understand the situation that Israel is in and the simple fact that everything possible must be done to remove the terrorist regime of Hamas. Because if not, a massacre like we saw on October 7 will just happen again. I’m not just conjecturing this. Hamas has clearly stated that this is what it will do.

The Biden administration has also used the humanitarian situation in Gaza to pressure Israel to back off. How would you have handled that aspect?

With regards to the residents of Gaza and the humanitarian aid, we also would have acted differently. We recognize the fact that the war is causing a terrible tragedy in the Gaza Strip, and we are sure that Israel is doing the best it can to adhere to international law and to avoid civilian targets, even though they are working under very challenging circumstances. The way Hamas has embedded itself in the civilian population is complicating this challenge.

I think that our approach would be to give Israel military and intelligence support, everything it needs to destroy Hamas. With regards to international legitimacy as well, we would help defend Israel on the world stage. We would support Israel on every possible front, which we did in our time.

I do think that we would do what we could to help the citizens of Gaza to the extent possible, and we would work with our Arab partners and allies to try to do this. But we would emphasize clearly that any such assistance would not clash with Israel’s mission to return the hostages, or the overriding priority, which is the complete destruction of Hamas.

It seems like the Biden administration is applying pressure in all the wrong places.

We would have also applied greater pressure on Iran. Iran controls Hamas, that is a fact. And no one is even looking in Iran’s direction and exerting pressure to return the hostages. It’s absurd. Why don’t they force Iran to pressure Hamas to release them? We saw exactly how much influence they had in the case of the Thai hostages. If they want to, they can.

It’s a big mistake not to try and gather all our allies to apply pressure on the Iranian regime on this subject. I cannot understand why they are not doing this.

You discussed all the positive ramifications of the Abraham Accords in your book, In the Path of Abraham. Do you think the events of October 7 and the subsequent war have undermined the achievements of the Abraham Accords?

I think we have to praise the countries that signed the Abraham Accords for adhering to the deal. You don’t see them cutting off ties with Israel, like some countries in South America are doing.

It is true that these days they say and do things about Israel that we wish would be different, but we have to recognize that they have no choice. They have national security interests, and it’s important for us to understand them. They have to defend themselves, and we need to know how to respect that.

Ultimately, that is also in the best interest of all of us. No one in the region wants to see turmoil and instability. Although it is a very challenging time, I think that the signatories  are doing their best to adhere to the Abraham Accords while balancing their internal needs.

I think the countries in the region, together with the United States, France and Britain, have worked together wonderfully to repel the Iranian assault, and that proved the importance of the theory that is at the basis of the Abraham Accords. It is clear to everyone that it is preferable for all these countries to work together to protect themselves from the Iranian regime, its terrorist proxies, and other groups that want to destroy what everyone else is trying to build. Reality shows everyone that what we have said all along is true.

We heard reports from the White House that Israel is at a crossroads and it has to choose whether to continue the military operation in Rafah or to back off, and receive in exchange a normalization process with Saudi Arabia. What do you think about this choice? Is a peace agreement with Saudi Arabia more important than anything?

I think the choice of “Riyadh or Rafah” is misleading and false. It’s just not true. Israel cannot choose Riyadh over Rafah. Saudi Arabia and Israel will be fine if they don’t sign on a peace agreement in the near future. Nothing will happen if they have to wait a bit.

But if Israel ignores Rafah, and stops trying to destroy Hamas and get its hostages back, in exchange for examining the possibility of a peace deal with Riyadh, that would be a mistake. For generations to come. Don’t think otherwise.

I certainly think it would be a tremendous achievement if Israel and Saudi Arabia would sign on such a deal. Both nations would gain a lot from each other. But Israel cannot ignore the more serious threat of Rafah, and it cannot allow Hamas to reorganize and develop into Hamas 2.0.

In my view, neither Israel or Saudi Arabia, nor any other ally of America in this region, will gain if Israel distances itself from Gaza and allows Hamas to rehabilitate itself. I just cannot understand the logic behind this whole story. Therefore, in my view, there isn’t even a question here.

Tell us about your experience on October 7. That was the first day of Yom Tov for you, Shemini Atzeres.

I was in shul, in a small minyan in a private home. When we got there that morning, someone said he’d heard that terrorists had infiltrated southern Israel from Gaza, using gliders to take them over the border. Only at the hakafos that night [on Simchas Torah in chutz l’Aretz], when we were in our central shul, did I hear a lot more details. It was dreadful.

At the time, someone quoted the initial number of casualties, which was much lower than what ended up being the actual total, and it was already horrific then. We couldn’t believe such a thing had happened. No one could fathom such a situation. It didn’t sound realistic.

In the evening, we also heard some of the horrific stories about what happened in the kibbutzim. I was aghast. It reminded me of dark times in history. But this information was very fragmented. With every passing hour, new stories came out that were more chilling than the previous ones. We couldn’t bear it. It was nauseating. Who would have believed that a human being was capable of committing such acts?


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 1012)

Oops! We could not locate your form.