ANALYSIS: In Week of Middle East Talks, Trump Envoy Avoids Disruption

Jason Greenblatt, U.S. President Donald Trump’s special representative for international negotiations. (Flash90)

U.S. President Donald Trump’s Middle East envoy has spent the week shuttling between Yerushalayim, Ramallah and the Jordanian capital Amman on his first official visit to the region, pursuing quiet diplomacy and avoiding controversy.

A real estate lawyer who has worked for President Trump for 20 years, Jason Greenblatt has met Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, Jordan’s King Abdullah and other senior officials during a busy round of talks that U.S. diplomats have described as a “listening tour.”

Rather than some of the bold pronouncements President Trump himself has made on the region – last month he said he didn’t mind if there was a one-state or two-state solution to the conflict – Greenblatt has been circumspect, issuing a few tweets but not speaking to the media.

“President Abbas and I discussed how to make progress toward peace, building capacity of Palestinian security forces and stopping incitement,” he wrote on Twitter, preceded by a picture of him shaking hands warmly with the Palestinian leader.

The readout from the Palestinians and King Abdullah after their meetings was positive, if largely sticking to standard diplomatic pronouncements about the importance of peace negotiations and their ability to transform the region.

One of the criticisms Palestinians have made of President Trump is that he is too pro-Israel, especially with his promise during the campaign to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Yerushalayim and his soft-pedaling on Israeli building in Yehudah and Shomron.

Since taking office, President Trump has modified his positions to an extent, rowing back on any quick embassy move and calling on PM Netanyahu during their White House meeting last month to “hold back on settlements for a little bit.”

The main point of discussion during five hours of talks between Messrs Greenblatt and Netanyahu on Tuesday was settlements, an Israeli official said, with the two sides seeking to come to an accommodation over how much Israel can build and where.

Messrs Netanyahu and Greenblatt met for more talks on Thursday, before the U.S. envoy returns to Washington.

“Our intention is to reach an agreed policy for building in settlements which is agreeable to us, not only to the Americans,” PM Netanyahu said ahead of the meeting. “Of course, this will help Israel after a period of many years during which we were not involved in such processes.”

U.S. officials indicated that Greenblatt, who is officially Trump’s special representative for international negotiations, would report back directly to the president on his trip, rather than to President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

They said it was the first of numerous visits he is expected to make to the region as the Trump administration pursues its goal of reviving negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians and striking what Trump calls “the ultimate deal.”