ason Greenblatt faced a room full of naysayers last week at the United Nations. But in his determined speech, he gave little indication that he was willing to let their opposition stop him.
The Trump administration’s special representative for international negotiations appeared at a Security Council meeting on the Israeli settlements, one that sought to highlight how Israeli building in the West Bank represents an “obstruction” to peace and is a violation of international law. This kind of parley is nothing new at the United Nations. As Greenblatt pointed out, there have been nearly 700 resolutions condemning Israel since its founding in 1948, what he called the “obvious, continual anti-Israel bias” at the world body.
Greenblatt’s appearance comes just weeks before the Trump administration plans to release its peace plan, which he has been working on for two years along with senior advisor Jared Kushner and US Ambassador to Israel David Freidman. The details of the plan that have so far surfaced indicate that Israel will likely favor it while the Palestinians will outright reject it. In fact, the Palestinian prime minister, Mohammad Shtayyeh, has already called the proposal “born dead” and indicated that there are “no partners in Palestine for Trump.”
So Greenblatt and company are facing stiff odds, and it just might be that his speech at the United Nations was intended to soften up the opposition. Greenblatt reminded UN members that they have been pursuing the same formula — total condemnation for Israel, sainthood for the Palestinians — for decades and that it might be the right time to adopt a new approach.
The sad truth is that saying the same things, repeating the same tired talking points, but not identifying a realistic way forward, has not and will not lead to peace — ever.
We need to focus on a real solution that will bring peace and prosperity to the Palestinians and Israelis and unlock opportunity for the region as well. We need to focus on a vision that will allow a comprehensive and lasting peace.
Greenblatt also highlighted the hypocrisy of the members’ approach to Israel. Among the subjects to be discussed at the session were alleged crimes and violence committed by Israelis against Palestinians in the West Bank. That is a subject worthy of investigation, Greenblatt said, and in fact Israeli authorities have jailed many of those arrested for such crimes.
In contrast, the Palestinians — even the official media sites of Fatah, laud Palestinian murderers as martyrs.
Palestinian leadership name schools, parks, and streets after terrorists who have murdered Israelis. Here, the UN can’t agree to condemn Hamas, but we’ve also never had… [a] session of any kind focused on Palestinian terrorism or incitement.
Another critical issue that many ignore as an obstacle to peace is the Palestinian Authority’s practice of rewarding terrorists. In fact, many of you here today continue to directly support the PA budget. Some of you were quick to condemn the Israelis for objecting to the PA for paying murderers of Israelis who were convicted and in jail under the PA’s Pay to Slay program.
What would you do if a neighboring government offered lifelong bounties for the killing of your citizens? The focus should be on ending the practice of incentivizing terrorists rather than how we can support the PA budget.
The only remedy to this hypocrisy, Greenblatt suggested, was to speak the truth about Israel in unambiguous terms. And that’s why the Trump administration has invested so much in crafting a peace plan it believes will solve the core issues of the conflict and satisfy both sides’ immediate demands.
A few days after the speech, Greenblatt spoke to Mishpacha about his UN appearance and what comes next.
Why did you feel it was necessary to give such a strong speech to the Security Council?
“The meeting that took place on Thursday attempted to present a very one-sided account of history and the issues. The fact that it was held on Israel’s Independence Day and only a few days after over 700 rockets from terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad were fired into Israel made it even more important to speak. As a representative of the Trump administration, which has focused on speaking the truth and whose policies are based on reality, I knew I had to not only tell many hard truths but I also had to ask tough questions of the other council members.
“It’s shameful that 700-plus rockets were fired by terrorists into Israel and the UN Security Council did not even put this on the agenda. This, after several months ago the UN failed to condemn Hamas.
“We share a goal with many in that room of actually bringing about peace. In order to do so, we have to recognize the current reality and speak truth. Unfairly singling out Israel does not bring us closer to peace. Focusing on settlements will not bring us closer to peace. That’s a farce. Failing to talk about terrorism and how the PA incentives terrorism with payments to terrorists will not bring us closer to peace. We must continue to speak about these things out loud and often.”
Do you think you managed to move any of the members?
“I have had numerous conversations with delegates from other countries who have thanked me for speaking truthfully and presenting logical, realistic counterarguments to the calcified talking points that continue to be recited in the Council. They did not agree with some of my remarks but appreciated many of the points. We hope that those who agree with our points and understand our logic will join us and confidently speak out loud.”
Why do you think such deep institutional bias exists at the UN?
“Blatant and persistent anti-Israel bias is a historical truth at the UN. It is terribly disappointing. In my remarks on Thursday, I called on the Security Council to condemn the terrorist organizations Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad for their vicious attacks on Israelis, which resulted in the loss of four lives and injured more than 200. This cannot continue. I also raised the Palestinian practice of rewarding terrorists and their families. These are hard truths that must be addressed, not overlooked or ignored. Allowing [an anti-Israel] video like the one shown at the start of the session and allowing two speakers with one-sided views and opinions was mere propaganda. Not allowing Israel to respond is another example of bias.”
Do you think the Palestinians will give the Trump administration’s peace deal a chance?
“Our administration, under the president’s bold leadership, will present our vision for peace soon. We are committed to building better lives for the next generation of Israelis and Palestinians. It would be very short-sighted, unprofessional, and regrettable if the Palestinian Authority didn’t give this vision an opportunity to succeed. The PA owes it to the people it leads to review the vision and engage on it. Rational criticism and negotiation is fair and appropriate. Condemnation before seeing it, or discarding it without engaging on it, is unprofessional and terrible for the Palestinians. They deserve better than that.”
What if it fails and the Palestinians refuse to negotiate? What’s next?
“We believe everyone should support the peace effort, unless they are against peace or against improving Palestinian lives. There are those who might not like our current policies, and we understand that. But that does not mean they can then honestly say they are against the plan, which they have not yet seen. We’ve asked everyone to continue being patient and to not prejudge the plan. We believe we have developed a plan that is detailed, realistic, fair, and implementable — one that will enable people to live better lives. Once everyone sees the plan, they’ll understand why it has taken us this long to release it. We do hope everyone will keep an open mind so that there can be a meaningful dialogue once the plan is released.”
How much of a personal investment has President Trump made in this peace plan? How far is he willing to go to push it?
“The president believes it is in the best interest of Israel, the Palestinians, and the region for the Israelis and Palestinians to review our vision and support this opportunity. These issues are tough; the conflict is extraordinarily complicated and there are many potential spoilers. But for any side to say it’s dead on arrival and not give it a lot of attention and hard work is a tremendous missed opportunity for the future generation of Palestinians, Israelis, and others in the region.”
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 760)