Jason Greenblatt & Avi Berkowitz: The peace envoys

#34: Jason Greenblatt & Avi Berkowitz

Avi Berkowitz & Jason Greenblatt (photo credit: COURTESY/MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Avi Berkowitz & Jason Greenblatt
The political chaos in Israel directly impacted the plans for the US peace plan – spearheaded by Jason Greenblatt, who is being replaced at some point by Avi Berkowitz. It’s been an odd year for the peace team. Greenblatt and Berkowitz were prepared, at least on two different occasions, to unveil the Trump administrations’ much-anticipated peace plan. In both cases, they decided not to do so because of elections in Israel, both of which came as a surprise.
In December 2018, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for early elections in April 2019. The team, which was already preparing to roll out the document, decided to wait at least until after those elections.
As no one could imagine six months ago the need for another round of elections, the team started to build momentum, and called for an economic workshop in Bahrain in June to reveal the financial component of the deal. However, with no Palestinian nor Israeli politicians, the workshop was mostly a theoretical conference; big ideas with an ambitious vision, without addressing the elephant in the room: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
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While Greenblatt and Berkowitz were working closely with Jared Kushner and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman about the best timing to publish the political component, another round of elections was announced. A few weeks later, at the end of August, Greenblatt announced his intention to step down from his position as special envoy to the Middle East.
The man who spent nearly three years trying to bring the sides to the negotiation table will return to his family in New Jersey before he even got a chance to show the world the policy that he secretly shaped, in dozens of visits to the region and meetings with the prime minister and with Arab leaders.
Indeed, almost three years after US President Donald Trump’s inauguration, no one knows the administration’s policy regarding the Middle East. And with the option of a third election cycle looming, it’s not clear when the plan will be out. One thing is sure – it is not going to happen soon.
With Greenblatt starting to fade away, Berkowitz earned Kushner’s trust and became more influential in the past year. The young aide, just 30 years old, is a fluent Hebrew speaker and Harvard law school alumnus who lived in Jerusalem from 2007-2008 and went to yeshiva.
He has been working for Kushner since the two played basketball together during a Passover program in Arizona in 2011. In recent months, Berkowitz was given more responsibility and took part in meetings with leaders across the Middle East.
Unlike Greenblatt, who has been a vocal supporter of Israel in social media, Berkowitz works mostly behind the scenes; he hardly tweets, and does not give interviews to the press.
In recent days, he has been closely following the political turmoil in Israel, trying to figure out what should be the administration’s next step. It is safe to assume that Berkowitz already understands that with a Palestinian leadership that boycotts the White House – and an Israeli political system that could face another election in the spring of 2020 – chances for presenting the peace plan before US presidential elections are pretty elusive.
Still, the plan worked on by Greenblatt for over two years and now being handed over to Berkowitz remains a giant shadow over the Israeli and Palestinian horizon, and places the duo in the upper echelon of decision-makers and wielders of influence on the international geo-political landscape.