TEL AVIV – Jason Greenblatt, President Donald Trump’s special representative to the Middle East, returned to Israel Sunday night for the second time in a month, a White House official said.
The trip to Israel will be Greenblatt’s sixth since Trump took office, with the last one taking place in June when the special envoy accompanied Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner.
According to a White House official, the main objective of this trip is to meet with U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman “now that the ambassador is on the ground and fully installed in his position.”
“Greenblatt will also likely be taking meetings relevant to both the Israelis and the Palestinians,” the White House official said. “This trip is an interim visit as talks continue about potential next steps. President Trump has made it clear that working towards achieving a lasting peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians is a top priority for him.”
Israeli media reported that meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas are scheduled for Wednesday.
According to Channel 10, Greenblatt will also meet with the families of three Israeli nationals missing in the Gaza Strip – Avera Mengistu, Hisham al-Sayed and Jumaa Abu Ghanima – as well as the families of Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, two IDF soldiers killed in 2014’s Operation Protective Edge whose bodies are being held by Hamas in Gaza.
Hamas sources over the weekend were quoted in the Hezbollah-affiliated Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar as saying that an impending “information for prisoners” swap deal was in the cards that could lead to the release of the three men and the bodies of the two soldiers.
However, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman denied the report, saying that it was part of Hamas’ “psychological warfare” against Israel. He added that while there had been some level of progress, the two sides were nowhere near a deal and there certainly was no intention on Israel’s part to release prisoners in exchange for information only.
“There has been no breakthrough, but there are relentless efforts to free our soldiers and our civilians who are in Hamas captivity,” Lieberman said Sunday.
“We aren’t resting for a moment. We are obligated to bring our soldiers and civilians home,” the defense minister declared.
After Greenblatt and Kushner’s last round of meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in June, the White House noted that “forging peace will take time” and emphasized the “importance of doing everything possible to create an environment conducive to peacemaking.”
Kushner was reported to have raised all concerns the U.S. has, including, chiefly, the ongoing PA policy of paying stipends to terrorists and their families. The U.S. demand reportedly left Abbas fuming after his recent meeting with Kushner and Greenblatt.