Jun 7, 2017

Trump Middle East envoy deals with his own palace intrigue

Majdi Mohammed / AP

A narrative is catching on among pro-Israel hardliners that President Trump's envoy to the Middle East, Jason Greenblatt, is getting too close politically to the widely hated Israeli politician Tzipi Livni.

The argument, as laid out by an unnamed official quoted in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, is that Livni has become a "mentor" of sorts to Greenblatt — and that he's meeting with her regularly and potentially undermining the Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu.

Why this matters: Greenblatt is now dealing with what every American envoy to the Middle East ultimately has to confront. It's the most complicated region in the world and every encounter will be magnified and blown out of proportion.

The (much more boring) reality: Greenblatt and Livni have met and spoken with each other, yet while he respects her they are hardly close. He met Livni for the first time on Friday March 24, when she visited Washington. Two administration sources with direct knowledge of the encounter said Israeli ambassador Ron Dermer also attended the meeting. Livni then joined Greenblatt for Shabbat dinner. Two days later Greenblatt met with Naftali Bennett, who leads Israel's right-wing Jewish Home party, and on May 9 he had his second and final meeting with Livni. Dermer and the U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman both attended that second meeting.

What to know about Livni: She's a major figure in Israeli politics — so it makes sense that Greenblatt would meet with her — but she's highly controversial, loathed by the Right, Left, and just about everyone in between. Much of the Israeli Right can't stand her because they think she's a traitor to their cause. She came up through the right-wing, was once a hawk, and is now regarded by hardliners as a sell out to the Palestinians. And because of her political history, the Israeli left will probably never trust her.

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