Peace (envoy) out: 8 things to know for September 6
Israel media review

Peace (envoy) out: 8 things to know for September 6

Finally, Jason Greenblatt has a plan and people believe in it: to leave the White House. Israelis couldn’t care less

US President Donald Trump's Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt, arrives at a news conference about a water-sharing agreement between Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority, in Jerusalem, July 13, 2017. (AFP/Pool/Ronen Zvulun)
US President Donald Trump's Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt, arrives at a news conference about a water-sharing agreement between Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority, in Jerusalem, July 13, 2017. (AFP/Pool/Ronen Zvulun)

1. A farewell to peace (planner): For outsiders looking in at Israel, the departure of US Middle East peace envoy Jason Greenblatt is major news, and bad news for a peace process that has seen little good in quite a long time.

  • Greenblatt’s departure is seen as timed with the imminent release of the Trump administration’s long-awaited peace plan. According to the unnamed senior official who announced the move, Greenblatt never even planned on staying on this long, but apparently stayed on an extra half-year to see the project through.
  • “What [the administration’s] “realistic vision for peace” looks like — or whether the White House will actually release it in full within any of our lifetimes — has been an open question since the administration took power,” writes Vox’s Alex Ward. “Now, with Greenblatt’s sudden departure, the prospects for a comprehensive peace plan seem even dimmer.”
  • “Greenblatt’s departure is the latest hurdle to what may have been an impossible job to begin with,” Bloomberg’s David Wainer writes.
  • “The low-key rollout of Greenblatt’s departure reflects how curtailed the initiative launched by [Jared] Kushner has become, from Trump’s pledges in 2017 to bring about an “ultimate deal” to 2019, when Kushner downgraded “peace plan” to “vision for peace” and Greenblatt appeared to spend much of his time advising Palestinians to curb their enthusiasm,” JTA’s Ron Kampeas writes.

2. Cutting out early: Some outlets report that Greenblatt will not stay on long enough to see the actual release of the plan, which is expected shortly after Israel goes to the polls on September 17. According to The New York Times, that timeline raises even more questions about the peace plan.

  • “The absence of a commitment to stay through the plan’s release is sure to stir doubts about its viability, which many regional experts and officials already doubt will break a decades-long stalemate between Israel and the Palestinians,” the paper’s Michael Crowley notes.
  • The Guardian notes that should Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fall in the elections “the plan could be shelved indefinitely.”
  • “Greenblatt’s leaving may have to do with the dim prospects of the so-called peace plan,” expert Khaled Elgindy tells the outlet. “What I do know is that it won’t make any difference to what is not really a plan – let’s call it a vision – because there is no chance of it going anywhere.”
  • The Washington Post writes that Greenblatt leaving “leaves the Arab-Israeli peace effort without its top full-time leader,” just ahead of the annual UN General Assembly, though the topic has taken a backseat to discussions of Iran. “There is no plan for any high-level US discussion of Arab-Israeli peace talks,” the paper’s Anne Gearan reports.

3. Son-in-law of Sam: In fact, the administration indicated that Greenblatt’s job would be merged with the Iran brief being led by Brian Hook.

  • “Greenblatt’s departure means Kushner is expected to take the point position on completing the political plan,” Roll Call reports, but really, it is Kushner aide Avi Berkowitz who will be the new Greenblatt.
  • Berkowitz comes with a wealth of experience playing pick-up basketball, writing campus op-eds and following on Kushner’s coattails, according to a widely cited Business Insider profile from two years ago. (And as far as I know he is not related to Son of Sam serial killer David Berkowitz, though AIPAC President Howard Friedman is his cousin.)
  • “Berkowitz, 28, is in many ways Kushner’s protégé, following him to Kushner Companies, then to Trump’s campaign, and now to the West Wing. Both Ivy League-educated lawyers, they have matching dispositions and similar worldviews influenced by their Jewish schooling and deep ties to Israel, according to several of Berkowitz’s friends,” the profile reported.
  • Or as Vanity Fair puts it: “Trump’s new Mideast Point Man is Jared Kushner’s former coffee boy.”
  • ToI’s Eric Cortellessa points out that Berkowitz isn’t coming into the job totally blind: “Berkowitz, has participated in a number of sensitive meetings on the administration’s Israel policy, including talks on the decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem. In February, he traveled with Kushner throughout the region, including to Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, in preparation for publication of the administration’s peace plan.”
  • On Twitter, former envoy Martin Indyk says Berkowitz is a “Nice guy but does not have the weight or experience of Trump’s former real estate lawyer,” managing to get a dig in at both of them.
  • Slate notes that Greenblatt was not exactly a heavyweight either. “Maybe Trump’s Real Estate Lawyer Wasn’t the Right Guy to Bring Peace to the Middle East,” reads a headline on the site. Still “it doesn’t raise high hopes that Kushner is now delegating the job to a subordinate.”

4. Jason who? We’ve heard from the Americans, but what do Israelis think of Greenblatt’s departure? Almost nothing. The story is given barely more than the most cursory coverage in the Hebrew press, reflecting how much of a non-entity the peace process has become.

  • Even Haaretz, perhaps the most internationalist of Israel’s Hebrew press, barely  mentions the departure with a few paragraphs on page 7 of the broadsheet.
  • “Greenblatt’s resignation deprives Netanyahu of a valued spokesman and lobbyist but changes virtually nothing, because there’s nothing to change,” the paper’s Chemi Shalev writes.
  • The Palestinians could also mostly care less, with most declining to say anything aside from Hanan Ashrawi, who describes the departure as a signal of the plan’s failure.
  • “They tried to bash the Palestinians into submission, to blackmail us to accept whatever their plan was. From the beginning it was doomed to failure,” she tells AFP.

5. Apathy abroad: One could hardly blame Israelis for focusing on elections with the vote only 11 days away.

  • But is there actually that much excitement? Turnout numbers of diplomats, emissaries and other Israelis who are able to vote abroad shows only 69% bothered to cast ballots, down from 76% a few months ago.
  • “Those who say turnout on September 17 will be lower than in April can look to the overseas turnout as an indicator,” Ynet notes.
  • The lack of appetite for more voting was apparent in the words of President Reuven Rivlin who told a Channel 12 news conference Thursday that it was up to him, and everyone, to make sure that a third vote doesn’t happen. In what is seen as rare criticism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Rivlin says he was surprised that the premier maneuvered to outflank Blue and White and call the second vote, saying it had abrogated an unwritten rule in Israel’s unwritten constitution.

6. Crying fraud: Further casting a chill over the democratic process, Yedioth reports that Blue and White leader Benny Gantz is claiming that Netanyahu is laying the groundwork to question the reliability of the elections. According to Gantz, the prime minister intends on claiming widespread voter fraud on the part of Arabs after the placement of cameras in polling stations was struck down.

  • Likud already claimed earlier this week, without any proof, that voter fraud had pushed the Ra’am-Balad party over the threshold.
  • In Haaretz, Yossi Verter writes that the prime minister and friends are outdoing themselves in the scaremongering department.
  • “A defeat at the polls – that is, the failure of his camp to garner 61 Knesset seats – will confirm his claim of the theft, perversion and contamination of the election,” he writes. “What will he do in such a situation, in which he doesn’t get the minimum number of seats that will ensure that he remains a free man? If he casts doubt on the legitimacy of the election from the outset, why should he accept its outcome?”

7. Nearing 60? Yet in Israel Hayom, which usually uses the last few weeks before elections to help telegraph the sense that Likud is about to lose, in order to push people to the ballot boxes, there is a rare sunny take, at least for right-wingers and extremists.

  • A poll published by the tabloid shows extremist right-wing party Otzma Yehudit crossing the Knesset threshold for the first time.
  • The upshot, according to the paper’s front page, is that the right-wing camp is nearing 60 seats without having to rely on Yisrael Beytenu.
  • “The polls are getting more confusing and a lot less stable,” the paper’s Moti Tochfeld writes.
  • To be sure, the Israel Hayom poll is an outlier. Other polls published Thursday by channels 12 and 13 show pretty much what they’ve shown all along, Likud and Blue and White neck and neck at the top, with seat totals in the low 30s, and Yisrael Beytenu remaining the key to building a coalition. Otzma Yehudit remains far below the threshold.

8. Editor-in-screech: A report on Channel 12 also provides new, and stupefying, proof into how much control the Netanyahus exercise, or try to exercise, over Israel Hayom.

  • In transcripts of police testimony published by the channel, publisher Miriam Adelson describes being harangued constantly by Sara Netanyahu, to the point where the prime ministers wife reportedly warned she (Adelson) would be at fault if Iran wiped out Israel.
  • In fact, Adelson says she was concerned about how much Mrs. Netanyahu must be screeching at the prime minister and distracting him from dealing with Iran and other state matters, so she would just give her what she wants to shut her up.
  • “There were phone calls to America with screams. When there were screams, when I’d hear a high-pitched voice, I’d simply put the receiver down,” Adelson was quoted saying. “You could hear the screams that way too. When the screaming died down — it could be 5, 10 minutes — then I’d pick up the receiver again. I wouldn’t listen to the screams, okay? It wasn’t pleasant. But out of respect for the prime minister, and it was mostly from her end, I simply didn’t respond. I didn’t answer.”
  • The prime minister’s “obsession” with the media — a term used in several think pieces Friday — is already legion. In Globes, Anat Bein-Leibowitz writes that with his decision to go balls to the wall against Channel 12 news and Keshet by calling for them to be boycotted, he wound up losing big time. Not only did Netanyahu lose a chance to play victim, but the channel was able to project that it remained influential by throwing a conference that had every other major political player on stage.
  • “The boycott of the conference was dumb from his point of view,” she writes. “The boycott by Likud was a little bit like a kid punishing his parents by not being willing to let them buy him ice cream, thinking that he’s broadcasting power.”
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