Trump’s media-shy new peace envoy Berkowitz meets Israeli leaders

Presidential adviser’s first trip to region since replacing Jason Greenblatt is also the first senior US visit since Friday killing of top Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Outgoing US Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt is seen with successor Avi Berkowitz in an April 2019 photo. (Twitter)
Outgoing US Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt is seen with successor Avi Berkowitz in an April 2019 photo. (Twitter)

Avi Berkowitz, the US administration’s new envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, came to Israel this week for a series of meetings with senior officials, sources in Jerusalem and Washington said.

It was Berkowitz’s first trip to the region since replacing Jason Greenblatt as US President Donald Trump’s special representative for international negotiations, in charge of the Israeli-Palestinian file.

The media-shy Berkowitz, 31, is also the first senior US official to arrive in Israel since Friday’s killing of top Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani.

On Monday, Berkowitz met with US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman at his Herzliya residence. On Tuesday, he met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem. Neither the White House nor the Prime Minister’s Office confirmed the meeting on the record.

US President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, right, meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, on June 22, 2018. (Matty Stern/US Embassy Jerusalem/Flash90)

Berkowitz, who works closely with Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, was also believed to have met with Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz, Netanyahu’s main challenger in the coming March election, though neither side confirmed the meeting.

The talks likely focused on the administration’s still unpublished peace plan, which has been delayed repeatedly by the political uncertainty in Israel. According to unconfirmed reports, Berkowitz discussed the possibility of releasing the plan even before the March vote.

The first part of the proposal was presented last summer during the so-called Peace to Prosperity workshop in Manama, Bahrain. It dealt exclusively with financial incentives for the Palestinians in case a peace plan was concluded. The publication of the other part, which deals with the political dimensions of a proposed solution, was repeatedly delayed due to the lack of a full-fledged elected government in Jerusalem.

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