Ahead of First Mideast Visit, Trump's Peace Envoy Met With Obama Negotiators to Seek Advice

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Donald Trump's Mideast peace envoy Jason Greenblatt with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, March 13, 2017.
Donald Trump's Mideast peace envoy Jason Greenblatt with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, March 13, 2017.Credit: Kobi Gideon, GPO

Jason Greenblatt, the White House's special adviser for international negotiations who just completed his first working visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority, met before the visit with a number of former Middle East peace negotiators, including members of the Obama administration, in order to seek their advice and learn from their experience.

Haaretz has learned that Greenblatt reached out to Frank Lowenstein, who was the special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in John Kerry's State Department from 2014 to 2017, and Dennis Ross, who was an influential adviser on the peace process to three U.S. Presidents - Obama, Clinton and George H.W. Bush, and is now a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. 

In his conversations with these former negotiators, just like during his visit to the region last week, Greenblatt mostly listened and took notes, revealing almost no details on what the Trump administration was planning to do in its attempt to reach what the current President calls "the ultimate deal." 

It is not rare for an official with Greenblatt's responsibilities to meet his predecessors in previous administrations and try to learn possible lessons from their experience. And yet, Greenblatt's conversations with the previous mediators, just like the administration's decision to keep in place a number of Obama-era professional diplomats who dealt with Israeli-Palestinian policy, could draw criticism from some right-wing supporters of Israel, who expected the new administration to offer a clear policy break with previous ones, and reject the traditional U.S. approach to the conflict, which people like Ross have promoted for decades. 

Another former peace negotiator who has been in touch with the Trump administration, and has shared his advice and experience with the White House, is Tony Blair, the former British Prime Minister who spent almost a decade as a special peace envoy for the International Quartet. Blair was in Washington two weeks ago and met with senior officials in the administration. 

A person close to Blair who spoke with him during his visit, told Haaretz that the former prime minister was "optimistic about Trump's chances to get something done" on the peace process front, and that Blair, like the President, "likes the idea of a regional process involving Israel, the Palestinians and the Arab countries."