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The Man Jason Didn’t Meet

Binyamin Rose

The Palestinian Resistance Leader Who Panned Oslo

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

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GAME CHANGER Nayef Hawatmeh knew that the Oslo Accords were a dead end for the Palestinians. He has his own solution for what ails the Arab world (Photos: AFP/Imagebank)

B y any yardstick, Jason Greenblatt’s initial foray into diplomacy was a resounding success.

President Trump’s special representative for international negotiations earned rave reviews from Israeli and Palestinian political leaders during his four-day visit to the region last week. More impressively, rank-and-file Israelis and Arabs — the ones who will have to live with the consequences of any diplomatic agreement — praised his listening skills and emotional intelligence.

Greenblatt served 20 years as chief legal officer in Donald Trump’s real estate empire before the president handed him his current assignment. No matter how complex Trump’s business dealings might have been, the hotly disputed real estate of the Middle East has confounded the most seasoned diplomats. Yet Greenblatt entered the fray with enthusiasm and carefully toed a balanced line.

He met with Israeli and Arab students. He met with Arabs from Gaza as well as Major-General Poli Mordechai, the commander who decides what and who gets in and out of Gaza. He met with Jordan’s King Abdullah, Palestinians in the Jalazone refugee camp, and, in a first for an American diplomat, met publicly with leaders of Israel’s settlement movement. He also met with the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land, a consultative body representing Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

There is one man Greenblatt did not meet on this trip: Nayef Hawatmeh.

Hawatmeh, for those who don’t recall, is one of the last living elders of the Palestinian national movement. At age 30, after Israel’s miraculous victory in the 1967 Six Day War, Hawatmeh founded the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP). Alongside Yasser Arafat’s Fatah and George Habash’s Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the triumvirate formed the early backbone of Palestinian nationalism.

Hawatmeh is not a nice guy. Although he claims to be head of the DFLP’s political wing, the DFLP has perpetrated its share of terror attacks, chiefly the 1974 massacre at a school in Maalot that took 27 lives. After several years of quiet — mainly because it was supplanted by other terrorist groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad — the DFLP was dropped from the State Department’s list of terror groups. But the DFLP is still an ideologically influential player in the Palestinian world.

Hawatmeh has strong opinions on who’s responsible for the chronic turmoil in the Arab world and what needs to be done to solve the region’s problems. And, while Greenblatt was visiting with Israeli dignitaries, the aging terrorist gave an extensive interview to Anisa Mehdi, an Emmy-award winning documentary filmmaker and journalist for Stratfor Global Intelligence.

Hawatmeh told Mehdi that even though he is for an Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines, he has always opposed the peace process enshrined in the Oslo Accords, predicting early on that the complicated new administrative jurisdictions in the Palestinian territories (Areas A, B, and C) would lead to a stalemate between Israeli and Palestinian leaders, and leave Palestinians citizens of neither a Palestinian state nor the State of Israel.

Jason Greenblatt touched all the bases on a trip to the Middle East as he helps form President Trump’s foreign policy

More recently, Hawatmeh looked around at the various dictatorships and kleptocracies ruling the Arab world and realized that the postwar concept of statehood in the Middle East never gained traction, mainly due to the many tribal divisions within the Arab world.

“I realized that all the Arab nations needed to get rid of their historical backwardness and to fight for independence and social justice,” Hawatmeh told Anisa Mehdi in their interview. “They needed an ideology that combined tackling social justice issues, fighting against class discrimination, preserving people’s freedoms in the region, and finding a solution to the Palestinian cause.”

Normally, the Palestinians are skilled at putting their best face forward for Western visitors, playing the victimization card to the hilt. Note that for Hawatmeh, finding the solution to the Palestinian cause took fourth place on his list. In other words, a veteran Palestinian leader admits that there are greater issues in the Middle East than the Palestinians.

Whether Jason Greenblatt heard Hawatmeh’s message from another source, or in a different form, is unknown. Like any good diplomat, Greenblatt doesn’t reveal his hand to the press and politely declined a request to be interviewed for this story.

But if there is one thing the new administration can learn from an aging, wizened terrorist living in Amman, it’s that the responsibilities of statehood start by attending to your own people and solving your own problems.

Anything the Trump administration, and Israel, can do to encourage that process will be a positive. Anything short of that will only perpetuate the shortcomings in the Arab world that Hawatmeh noted, with potentially serious ramifications for Israel’s security. (Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 653)

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