The Fine Print: Insider’s View of the ‘Deal of the Century’

Published: February 5, 2020
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After three years of planning and delays, more planning and more delays, the “Deal of the Century” was finally unveiled at a White House ceremony so momentous that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu compared it to President Harry Truman’s recognition of the State of Israel in 1948.

Dubbed “Peace to Prosperity: A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People,” the plan was cited by President Trump as being “a win-win opportunity for both sides, a realistic two-state solution that resolves the risk of Palestinian statehood to Israel’s security.” Whether or not it succeeds at the negotiating table, the plan does succeed at finally laying bare the falsehood of those who deny the Jewish people their rightful homeland. In his speech, Trump called Israel “a light unto the world” and the Land of Israel an “ancient home” and “sacred place of worship” for the Jews.

Depending on who’s reading it, there’s good news and bad news. For Israelis, the good news is that the plan affirms that Israel is “the nation-state of the Jewish People,” recognizes an undivided Yerushalayim, acknowledges Israeli sovereignty over most Jewish communities in Yehudah and Shomron and the Jordan Valley, demands a disarmed Gaza, and denies the “right of return” for Palestinian refugees. The bad news is a call for a demilitarized Palestinian state on about 80% of Yehudah and Shomron.

For Palestinians, the good news is that the plan recognizes that “any workable peace agreement must address the Palestinians’ legitimate desire for self-determination,” proposes a capital in the eastern section of Yerushalayim, includes “the potential to facilitate more than $50 billion in new investment over 10 years,” and allows four years to contemplate signing onto the deal. The bad news is a call for a demilitarized Palestinian state on about 80% of Yehudah and Shomron.

One thing is certain — Jason Greenblatt, President Trump’s former Middle East negotiator and one of the chief architects of the plan, triumphed in his effort to bring true awareness to the most challenging conflict in the Middle East. His steadfast crusade for the State of Israel and loyal advocacy for the Jewish People are evident in this plan and his involvement in shaping President Trump’s supreme pro-Israel policies. In an exclusive interview with Hamodia, Greenblatt shared his observations on the plan’s initial reception and hopes for its implementation.

After three years, the peace plan was finally unveiled. It is a very comprehensive, systematic and honest plan that lays out Israel’s history and its legitimate claim to being a “nation-state of the Jewish people,” as well as the Palestinians’ “legitimate desire for self-determination.” How do you feel about its reception so far, despite Abbas’ continuous rejection?

What you describe about the plan is exactly right. Among the many things we tried to do differently is not only provide solutions to very intractable problems, but also, in a very detailed, methodical way, provide both points of view. I think it is accurate, honest and tough.

Regarding reaction from around the world, the fact that we had three Arab ambassadors there, from Bahrain, Oman and the UAE, was nothing short of remarkable. In addition, there were excellent statements from the Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Egypt’s was fine and Qatar’s was as expected — encouraging but still toeing the line for the Palestinian talking points that will not solve the conflict. We also had excellent statements from the U.K., Australia and Brazil. I think all of those are really dramatic game changers. Even the U.N. has not yet condemned it. The Secretary General made a bland but encouraging kind of statement.

As for President Abbas’ reaction — it’s disappointing but not surprising. It’s going to take him time to understand that there are extraordinary benefits that can come to Palestinians from this plan. It’s not what Palestinians have been falsely promised over the decades. Those promises are never going to come to fruition.

President Abbas’ speech and other statements made several days ago at the Arab League’s meeting — they’re just more of the same. We’ve heard these statements for decades. They can make these statements over and over again and it will lead to nothing. Israel will continue to thrive and prosper and Palestinians will fall further and further behind. At some point perhaps they will recognize the serious mistakes they have made over the decades, which have only driven the Palestinians into a ditch with no real hope for the future. It’s time for them to wake up.

Is it perfect for the Palestinians? No, it’s far from perfect, but it’s also far from perfect for the Israelis. That’s just the reality of how to solve a complex problem like this. I’d like to think that President Abbas is a leader that will be able to absorb it with time and turn the battleship around and explain why this is worth engaging on.

Do you think that Abbas will come under pressure from Sunni Arab states with whom President Trump has cultivated a relationship in opposition to Iran?

I’ve always said, and I firmly believe now, that they will not pressure him. They will encourage him not to foment violence and to understand how this is what the prime minister of Israel called “the opportunity of the century for both sides.” But they’re not going to pressure him because it doesn’t suit their needs or their purposes. They have their own countries to think about. However, they are tired of the conflict, and they want to do business with Israel.

Much will depend on how Abbas handles it. From President Trump’s December 2017 announcement of Jerusalem recognition, Abbas’ rhetoric has been heating up as the months went by, describing the deal as the “slap of the century” or the “shame of the century,” and [saying,]“I hope the deal is born stillborn.” So he made it much harder to be able to turn it around. He has plenty of detractors, he’s in his 16th year of his four-year elected term, and there are a lot of people who would like to see him exit the world stage. But he’s a historic figure and if anybody could do it, he could. The question is whether he’ll be willing to do it. I think it’s just too soon to tell. But right now he must be surprised at how many countries either support it or aren’t condemning it.

If support for the Palestinian cause continues to erode from countries around the world, it becomes unsustainable. The reason the Palestinian cause has gone on this long is because they have done a remarkable job of allowing other countries to fund them and fund terrorism, like the pay-for-slay. And there has not yet been a reason for other countries to say, ‘Enough is enough.’ I think this plan, with all its shortcomings, will start causing other countries to say, ‘Enough is enough.’

The plan references Hamas’ use of terrorism and the Palestinian Authority’s use of incitement, which leads to terrorism. Yet the plan also discusses hope for Israel and the Palestinians to live side by side in peace. Do you think it’s realistic to expect the Palestinians to overcome decades of incitement in the four years’ time period allotted to them to turn themselves around?

Can they turn themselves around because they realize this is a good deal to negotiate? Absolutely. Can they turn it around to undo decades of incitement and hatred inherent in the culture of Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and certain Palestinians living in Judea and Samaria? Yes, to some degree.

But at the end of the day, if they don’t do it, the status quo remains and the Palestinians will fall further behind because of their inability to take down Hamas or Hamas’ inability to change its stripes and disarm itself. Then, all the more so, it proves to the world why they shouldn’t have a state.

Israel’s status quo changed dramatically for the better under the Trump administration, especially regarding Yerushalayim, the Golan Heights and most recently the Pompeo Doctrine, affirming that Israeli communities in Yehudah and Shomron do not violate international law. Do you think Israel’s sense of gratitude to Trump obligated them to accept the plan rather than capitalize on the status quo and annex those communities without committing to a Palestinian state, albeit a theoretical and demilitarized one?

I would say absolutely no. Israel did not have to accept this. There was no pressure on Israel. We had always said that nobody can force this deal on anyone. A deal that’s forced isn’t going to get signed, and if it gets signed, it’s not going to last. There’s no upside for us to have pressured Israel, and Israel would have withstood the pressure. They withstood some really tough things from President Obama; they could easily have withstood tough things coming from a very, very friendly administration, from the President and on down.

I think that Israel recognizes that this issue needs to be resolved at some point. The status quo of having all these Palestinians and their population continue to grow in the state of affairs that exist today isn’t something that can go on forever.

You refer to the state as “theoretical” — that’s true. But we call it “realistic.” And “demilitarized” is only one aspect of it. A demilitarized state may have answered the security concerns of Israel many years ago, before all types of terrorism grew and thrived. Now a demilitarized state is critical but not enough. That’s why our plan gave Israel overriding security control.

Demilitarization connotes an army. Israel cannot be safe if the Palestinian state has an army; that’s obvious. But the overriding security control allows Israel to make sure it can detect tunnels, malign rocket building, any kind of terror activity. If the Palestinians sign the deal and police their country so that they keep a lid on all forms of terrorism, then Israel’s involvement in Palestinian day-to-day life will continue to diminish, though I don’t think it will ever be nonexistent. But if the Palestinians don’t do their job right, either because they’re incapable or unwilling, that’s all the more reason for Israel’s security responsibility.

Would you agree that it might be misplaced for Americans to criticize or praise a plan that will not affect their own daily lives?

That is right. I don’t live there, I don’t put my life on the line there. I’ve always said that it’s not for us to decide the fate of the Israelis or that of the Palestinians. The difference between the Israelis and the Palestinians is that in Israel there’s a democratically elected government. There is a prime minister and an opposition leader who are willing to embrace the plan. If the people of Israel decide to do it, even though there might be detractors, it is because they, thankfully, live in a democracy.

Whether or not it comes to fruition, this peace plan, essentially crafted by four Orthodox Jews, sets precedent and becomes the starting point for future negotiations. That includes recognition of a Palestinian state. Ambassador David Friedman acknowledged this, saying it is “the first time the State of Israel is committed to the existence of a Palestinian state.” Do you think that such commitment will be impossible to walk back if circumstances dictate it should, because future negotiators will cite your authorship and essentially say, “Why should we be holier than the Pope?”

I don’t think it’s a legitimate concern. We did not endorse the concept of a two-state solution; we endorsed the concept of what we define as a “realistic two-state solution.” We didn’t endorse the concept of a Palestinian state; we endorsed the concept of a Palestinian state within the parameters of this plan. So, in two years or 30 years from now, if someone tries to pull that, you have to state that it was subject to all these terms and conditions.

Time goes on and people forget, but that’s why we took great pains to write it out this way. That’s the reason the press conference had a very careful speech by President Trump, so anyone who tries to rip the word “state” away from the reality of how it was presented is just being manipulative. And I think the truth will come out.

Some skeptics claim that the plan was rolled out now to give a political boost to Trump and Netanyahu, both of whom are facing political challenges. On the Israeli front, two polls that came out right after the plan was presented predicted similar results if Israeli elections were held in Israel today. What conclusions do you draw from this?

On the President’s side, I don’t think it has any impact on impeachment. The impeachment is a sham and this isn’t relevant to the impeachment circus.

I can’t speak to the polls in Israel, but I would say that had Benny Gantz not been involved in this process — had he not been invited to the White House, briefed on the plan and endorsed it — I can understand how people might have said it was a political stunt. We removed it from the politics specifically because we believe it’s a great thing for Israel. I think people who say otherwise are making the comment for political purposes to undermine the plan. It’s not a fair argument now that both Prime Minister Netanyahu and Gantz have been involved.

With so many details that go into the timing of a plan’s release, there’s never a perfect time. We could have waited for an Israeli government to be formed. We considered that twice before and chose not to do it again. This is the third election. To hold something back that has the potential to help millions of people if they’re willing to engage, and the Israelis have indicated they’re going to engage, because some people say it’s a political stunt, isn’t the right thing to do.

In an interview with CNN, Jared Kushner said of the plan, “The terms are not final terms. This is an opening and if the Palestinians come, and they have some adjustments … there’ll be flexibility.” However, the plan also calls for an “end to all claims” from the Palestinians. Is the plan actually a starting point for negotiations?

The “end of all claims” is if a final peace agreement is signed. Then the Palestinians are ending all claims. If the Palestinians sit down with the Israelis and try to negotiate a border a little differently, Israel may say OK. But I don’t believe in any circumstance Israel will agree to a plan wherein the Palestinians will not give up their claims once Israel gives up land for a Palestinian state. And there are some things that Israel will say are not negotiable, like recognition of a Jewish state.

These are the terms of what we think the final peace treaty should look like. They are subject to both sides agreeing and negotiating the terms. This plan might be 180 pages. A peace treaty is hundreds of pages and detailed maps. There’s a long road to get from here to a final peace accord. We hope it will be on the terms that we presented.

The economic portion of the deal was presented before the political portion but only comes into effect after the Palestinians agree to the political terms. Do you think this carrot-and-stick approach will ultimately succeed?

The Palestinians have been clear, and I think it will stay this way, that they’re not interested in economic peace. They view the economic portion as a bribe. And I think they will not accept aid in order to give up what they think is the minimally acceptable standards on which to sign a deal. I do think that over time other countries will reduce aid and that might put them in a difficult spot. The economic portion was not intended to pressure but to give them hope and show them how they can benefit tremendously and thrive and prosper. But there are people who are detracting from it and saying it’s nothing more than a bribe. That’s completely false.

President Trump values the Evangelicals and courts their vote. What has their reaction been to the plan?

That’s a good question. The statements I’ve seen so far have been outstanding, like from CUFI [Christians United for Israel]. I believe on an overall basis the Evangelical community has been very positive, but I haven’t seen all of their statements.

Statements and op-eds are only now starting to come out. The pieces that are critical but positive are the best ones. Because if someone is over-the-moon positive, sometimes they’re just not thinking of the Palestinian side. If someone is just completely negative, and there have been quite a lot of pieces like that, then either they are anti-Israeli or anti-reality.

Discussions like this are important. What has to happen now is that no matter how many issues you may have with the plan, whatever side you’re on — Israeli, Palestinian, right, left — we all have to recognize that this problem at some point needs to be resolved. It is going to be resolved in a way that requires tremendous sacrifice from everybody, but the only way you’re going to get there is if you have this tough dialogue.

What aspect of this whole journey are you most proud of?

Probably what you said at the beginning, which is that it’s an honest plan, a realistic plan. It sets forth truths that people shied away from all the time. So our ability to have written something that really explains the nature of the conflict fully, and I do think from both sides, is probably what I’m most proud of.

I am also extremely proud to have been one of the key players in the decisions that President Trump made — the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, moving the U.S. embassy, recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan, reeducating people about the conflict, using more precise terminology about the conflict, and the President’s extraordinary support for Israel. All while still trying to help Palestinians forge a bright future.