(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
US President Donald Trump’s adviser Jason Greenblatt met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Monday evening, marking the Trump administration’s first active foray into Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy.
Greenblatt, who is Trump’s special representative for international negotiations, is scheduled to meet on Tuesday with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah. He is slated to be in the region until Thursday.
According to a US Embassy spokeswoman, Greenblatt will be meeting a “wide range of Israeli and Palestinian interlocutors, including university students, entrepreneurs, religious leaders and businesspeople.”
The spokeswoman said the people Greenblatt will be meeting represent a “wide swath,” as he is trying to use the visit to “hear a lot of different perspectives.” The purpose, she said, is to “begin in-depth consultations on how tangible progress can be made toward peace. It is a listening visit, and a chance to engage and talk to people and get their ideas about how peace is possible.”
In addition to Netanyahu and Abbas, he will be meeting with President Reuven Rivlin, opposition head Isaac Herzog, acting head of the National Security Council Ya’acov Nagel and Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories head Maj.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai.
The spokeswoman said that the focus of the visit is the “big picture,” given Trump’s comments about a desire to reach a comprehensive agreement.
Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer came to Jerusalem to take part in the meetings, an indication that part of the discussions will deal with trying to establish guidelines regarding Israeli settlement construction.
Greenblatt and Dermer have been charged with forming a mechanism that will set the guidelines on this matter, in an effort to prevent it from being a constant irritant in US-Israel relations, as it was during the Obama years.
Acting State Department spokesman Mark Toner said not to expect any announcements or revelations on the topic from these meetings. “We see them as a challenge that needs to be addressed at some point,” he said.
Toner said Greenblatt is seeking to “create a climate” for fresh peace talks in “the first of what will become many visits.” This trip was coordinated by the State Department and the National Security Council.
Toner could not confirm whether any State Department officials were traveling with Greenblatt, a real estate attorney, but did note that Michael Ratney, acting deputy assistant secretary on Israeli and Palestinian issues, had been involved in the planning process.
Ratney is not a new, permanent envoy to the peace process, Toner said. The past three administrations have appointed special envoys assigned exclusively to the conflict, but Trump has yet to do so, and Toner is unclear whether such an appointment will come to pass.
Former president Barack Obama named George Mitchell as his special Middle East envoy two days after his inauguration in 2009, and Mitchell came to the region a week later.
Greenblatt, a graduate of Yeshiva University who spent a year studying at the Har Etzion yeshiva in Alon Shvut, posted a picture on Twitter Monday morning of his tallit, tefillin and siddur, and wrote, “Time for morning prayers (shacharit) at unexpected stop in Frankfurt. Pray for peace.”Michael Wilner contributed to this report from Washington.