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June 21, 2017 5:23 pm

Kushner and Greenblatt’s Embrace Will Encourage Israel to ‘Take Risks for Peace,’ Says Former ADL Chief

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Interview

ADL National Director Emeritus Abe Foxman. Photo: ADL.

The new push launched this week by Trump administration emissaries Jason Greenblatt and Jared Kushner to revive Israeli-Palestinian negotiations has received a positive welcome from a prominent American Jewish leader with intimate knowledge of both the players and the pitfalls of peacemaking in the Middle East.

“They say that Jason is a good listener. What he and Jared and their team are doing is studying all the possibilities,” Abraham Foxman — who spent three decades at the helm of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and now serves as the Jewish organization’s national director emeritus — told The Algemeiner on Wednesday.

Though the White House has remained tight-lipped on the content of Kushner and Greenblatt’s discussions with leaders on both sides, an advisory issued earlier this week cautioned that “forging a historic peace agreement will take time” and added that “there are likely to be many visits by both Mr. Kushner and Mr. Greenblatt, sometimes together and sometimes separately, to the region.”

But for Foxman, what is significant is not so much the issues that are holding up a resumption of direct negotiations, but the transformation of the atmosphere between the US and Israel.

“Until quite recently, the Americans would hesitate on a terrorist attack in Israel,” Foxman said. “We’d wonder, would the State Department say something? Would it be ‘evenhanded?'”

“Jason Greenblatt goes from the plane to the Kotel (Western Wall) in Jerusalem and then to a shiva call for a victim of terrorism — and so does Jared,” Foxman continued, referring to the participation of both men in the official mourning period for Hadas Malka, the 23 year-old Israeli border policewoman murdered by Palestinian terrorists in Jerusalem last Friday.

Such gestures count, Foxman said, because Israel will take risks for peace only if it has the robust support of the US.

“The US is publicly embracing Israel — that goes a long way when it comes to getting Israel to take risks,” he asserted. “[President Donald] Trump isn’t reliable, but he has a greater chance of getting Israel to take risks for peace because of his embrace and support.”

By his own admission, Foxman is an “optimist.”

“If you look at the issues, they are the same — borders, Jerusalem, the refugees, settlements,” he said. “But the constellation in the neighborhood is now different, because of the tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran, between Sunni and Shia Islam.” This shifting balance of forces, he added, would not be enough to effect change without the essential element of close US-Israel ties that was missing from the previous Obama administration.

Foxman said he was encouraged that Trump administration officials “who are engaged” with the Israeli-Palestinian issue “realize that it’s not a slam dunk. The only progress one can make is through interim arrangements.”

By way of illustration, Foxman recalled a visit to the Saudi capital, Riyadh, with a high-level ADL delegation. At the end of the visit, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, then the Saudi ambassador to the US, offered the delegation his plane to take them to their next destination.

“I said to Bandar, ‘Let’s have the first flight between Riyadh and Ben-Gurion Airport in Israel,’ and he replied, ‘Not yet, not yet,’ and we flew to Amman in Jordan instead,” Foxman recalled. “So we’re not going to have a dramatic outcome where suddenly Israelis are flying to Riyadh and embassies are opening everywhere. What you need first is permission for Israeli planes to overfly Saudi Arabia. It’s those little things that count, and some of them are already happening behind the scenes.”

Foxman also praised the current administration for its uncompromising attitude regarding Palestinian incitement. “Incitement is a serious issue that was never handled very seriously,” he said. “Now it’s being handled more seriously than before.”

On the vexed issue of PA payments to the families of Palestinian terrorists imprisoned by Israel, Foxman said that “there’s an understanding you can’t make peace with those who glorify and reward those who are against peace.”

“I think they will make progress on this,” Foxman said of Kushner and Greenblatt’s ongoing diplomatic efforts, to which the “egregious” policy of the payments has posed a consistent challenge.

More broadly, Foxman is pleased by what he regards as a “new consciousness” not just in the US and the Middle East, but in Europe as well. In that regard, he cited recent decisions by the Norwegian and Dutch governments among others to end funding for Palestinian NGOs involved in incitement against Israel.

That problem of hate, Foxman said, is what will make the difference between a “cold peace and a warm peace.” Because of that, “peace is not going to be happen overnight,” he noted.

“That’s not because the region’s leaders don’t see strategic and economic value in peace,” Foxman concluded. “It’s because for years, all they’ve taught is hatred. Not just the Palestinians and Iran, but Egypt and Jordan also.”

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