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Trump's Middle East peace initiative gets just a little worse

Trump tapped an unqualified real-estate lawyer to oversee Israeli/Palestinian peace talks. He quit yesterday, and his successor is worse.
Jared Kushner departs the White House with President Donald Trump on March 15. 
Jared Kushner departs the White House with President Donald Trump on March 15. 

It was just three months into his presidency when Donald Trump declared with confidence, "I want to see peace with Israel and the Palestinians. There is no reason there's not peace between Israel and the Palestinians – none whatsoever." There are, of course, all kinds of things standing in the way of peace, though the president didn't appear to recognize them.

Nevertheless, as regular readers know, he was quite serious about this. A month later, Trump boasted there's a "very, very good chance" his administration would help strike a deal for Middle East peace. "It's something, frankly, maybe not as difficult as people have thought over the years," the president added.

It's against this backdrop that Trump's point man on the issue quit -- before the White House's Middle East peace plan is even unveiled.

Jason Greenblatt is leaving as President Donald Trump's envoy for brokering an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, senior officials told NBC News on Thursday.His departure, confirmed by the president on Twitter, is the latest sign that optimism within the Trump administration for the long-awaited plan's prospects may be fading. Release of the plan, under development since the start of administration, has already been delayed several times, most recently until sometime after the Israeli elections on Sept. 17.Avi Berkowitz, a longtime aide to Trump senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, will replace Greenblatt in his role as special adviser for international negotiations, the administration officials said.

I suspect these names aren't too familiar to most Americans, so it's worth taking a moment to unpack these borderline-comical personnel shifts.

Jason Greenblatt, the president's first envoy for negotiating a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians, was a curious choice from the outset. After all, Greenblatt wasn't a diplomat or an expert in international affairs; he's Trump's former real-estate lawyer and a former longtime employee of the Trump Organization.

Sure, this president prioritizes personal ties over "traditional qualifications" -- he tapped a Trump family wedding planner for a key post at HUD, for example, and he considered his pilot to lead the FAA -- but no one seriously believed Greenblatt was the best person for the job.

His successor, however, is worse.

The new White House envoy for brokering an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal is Avi Berkowitz, a 29-year-old lawyer, who graduated from law school in 2016, and who happens to be friends with the president's nearly-as-young son-in-law, Jared Kushner, whose own efforts in this area have flailed for months.

I'll just go ahead and state the obvious for the record: Avi Berkowitz has no experience in foreign policy or international diplomacy, and to expect him to have the skills and stature necessary to negotiate an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians is ridiculous.

Jon Chait joked yesterday, "Obviously, Trump believes being Jewish is not only a necessary qualification to serve as his Middle East adviser, but also a sufficient one."