Jared Kushner’s forthcoming memoir is receiving a bit of media fanfare. Unfortunately, because Kushner is Donald Trump’s son-in-law, it seems likely the book will overshadow one just published last month by Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s special envoy to the Middle East.
In the Path of Abraham: How Donald Trump Made Peace in the Middle East—And How to Stop Joe Biden from Unmaking It not only tells the story of Greenblatt’s outreach to the region but also recommends a template for a fresh, wiser approach to building peace there.
Greenblatt worked for many years as legal counsel for the Trump Organization. After the election, Trump appointed him to be his Middle East envoy. An attorney and orthodox Jew from Teaneck, New Jersey, he lacked political experience and diplomatic credentials. His sudden career change was a real-life incarnation of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”
And like Jimmy Stewart’s everyman character in that movie, Greenblatt was surrounded by seasoned officials who arrogantly believed that their professional acumen gave them a certain divine right to manage U.S.-Middle Eastern affairs. But for Greenblatt, since they were the ones who had advised the many previous administrations that had failed countless times to achieve peace in the Middle East, they were not exactly able to lecture him now about how to do it.
As soon as he started, he found the old guard fetishized the peace process and had little imagination about the peace parameters. Their textbook assumption was that everything hinges on solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict first and foremost. He was told constantly that it is the single issue around which everything else revolves. To make their inviolable process even more stringent, it must begin with Israel freezing all settlement construction and end with them retreating to 1967 borders. The “experts” also persisted in warning Trump that moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem was a goal that must wait until a satisfactory resolution was found for the Palestinians. They implored Trump that it would be courting disaster to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Of course, they were wrong about everything.
Greenblatt insisted the peace process prescribed by the “experts” is a bridge to nowhere. For him, it ignored the changing landscape of the region. The concerns of the Arabs are not the same as they used to be.
There are many new factors. The prospect of a nuclear Iran frightens both Israel and the Arabs. Iran is also sponsoring terrorism that endangers the security of the Arab countries just as much as Israel’s. Syria is in a bloody civil war with no end in sight, and ISIS remains on the loose. The economies of the Gulf states can no longer rely on oil profits alone. Many Arabs also have compassion-fatigue when it comes to the Palestinians, who have walked from every opportunity to achieve an independent state. Arab countries are also tired of seeing their monetary aid to Gaza and the West Bank go toward funding terrorism and to personally enriching Palestinian leaders.
As a result of these new realities, Greenblatt argued for an “outside-in” approach to the Middle East, which turns the old framework on its head. It is not the Palestinian problem that has to be solved first before everything else, but the other way around.
To that end, the Trump Administration was able to broker the Abraham Accords, an agreement to normalize relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan. It would be the beginning of strong economic and diplomatic ties that would include many enhanced trade relations and technology transfers.
Largely panned by the European Union and other critics as a deflection from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it set in motion warm conditions of peace between Israel and a handful of Arab nations. Although Israel and these new partners were never in an armed conflict against each other, the agreement developed strong ties between countries that were still once at great diplomatic odds. And while its critics insist it distracts from the Palestinian issue, Israel’s new Arab partners over time may be in a better position to mediate that conflict too, since they are now trusted friends of both sides. Its significance should not be downplayed. Had a Democrat orchestrated the Abraham Accords, he would have been awarded a Nobel Peace Prize.
And although the Palestinians never came back to the negotiating table, Greenblatt’s position is that they were never going to, anyway. The administration offered the “Peace to Prosperity” plan, also known as the “Deal of the Century,” which Greenblatt believes addressed all the Palestinians’ core interests while simultaneously assuring Israel’s security. It was rejected outright by the Palestinian Authority before it was even unveiled, but Greenblatt maintains that its value is its forthright honesty with the Palestinians about what goals are realistic for them.
The book contains an abundance of personal anecdotes about his experience getting to know prominent players in the region. From Benjamin Netanyahu stopping a meeting to form a minyan (quorum of 10 men) so that Greenblatt could recite Kaddish (mourner’s prayer) for his late mother, to Jordan’s King Abdullah II giving Greenblatt’s teenaged son a tour of his automobile collection, he remarks on the human side of each world leader he met on his state visits. And although he is brutally honest about their stubbornness and moral corruption, he even manages to find some genuinely kind things to say about Mahmoud Abbas and Saeb Erekat, whom he visited again at his deathbed.
Perhaps the most important lesson of In the Path of Abraham is that being a wise, industrious, pious, and civic-minded American is all it takes for public service. As our founders knew, government does not need to be the exclusive province of specialists and policy wonks. In fact, ordinary citizens may even achieve superior results.