Jared Kushner is clueless on how to strike the 'ultimate deal'
A few months ago, there was actually some cautious optimism among Middle East watchers that Trump might be able to make some progress.
By Adam Taylor
Published: Sun 27 Aug 2017, 10:00 PM
Last updated: Mon 28 Aug 2017, 12:56 AM
White House adviser Jared Kushner headed back to Israel and the West Bank last week in a renewed push to broker Middle East peace, just one of several responsibilities the administration has handed to President Donald Trump's 36-year-old son-in-law.
Despite Kushner's unusually varied workload - he's also tasked with reforming veterans' care, solving the opioid crisis, something to do with "American innovation," and more - this is his second trip to the region in the space of just three months. That may be a sign of how keenly the new administration is chasing peace between Israel and the Palestinians, which Trump has described as the "ultimate deal."
A few months ago, there was actually some cautious optimism among Middle East watchers that Trump might be able to make some progress. Sure, he and Kushner don't have any diplomatic or political experience, but so what? Trump was a self-described dealmaker who didn't have much of the political baggage of his predecessors. The experts hadn't done so well finding a solution, so why not give them a try?
Optimism has since faded, and Kushner's trip has highlighted the obstacles he faces. Here are five of the biggest:
The Israelis: A lot has changed in Israel since Kushner's last visit in June. A corruption scandal swirling around Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has put him on the defensive, and a criminal indictment now looks possible. Some analysts think Netanyahu will refuse to make concessions that may anger the Israeli right - such as Jewish settlements built on the West Bank - to protect his political flank.
The Palestinians: After Kushner's June visit, it was the Palestinians who were annoyed by the American. "They sounded like Netanyahu's advisers and not like fair arbiters," one senior Palestinian said to London-based Al Hayat.
Among the complaints is that Kushner won't publicly commit to a two-state solution in which Israel and an independent Palestine would exist side-by-side. In a confounding move, the State Department suggested recently that it could not commit to that solution, the one long endorsed by American, Palestinian and other international leaders, because it would indicate bias - a position that shocked some observers.
Such moves put Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in a difficult position. He has conditioned his cooperation with Kushner's peace initiative on a public commitment to a two-state solution. And much like Netanyahu, the 82-year-old Abbas is looking politically weak at home, where there are widespread complaints that he has not made any gains in the peace process after 12 years in office.
The rest of the Middle East: Kushner's trip included meetings with a number of other Arab leaders, a recognition of how regional support will be needed for any peace initiative. Dennis Ross, a former US envoy to the peace process, has said that because of distrust between Israeli and Palestinian leaders it would be "nearly impossible for them to do anything without an Arab cover."
But the potential issues with that tactic were underscored in Egypt, where Kushner's trip awkwardly coincided with a surprise the United States decision to withhold millions of dollars in aid from Cairo. The decision prompted a sharp statement from Egypt's Foreign Ministry, which said it reflected "poor judgement."
This was just one example of the increasing complexity of regional politics.
President Trump: Trump's relationship with Israel has become far more complicated over the past two weeks, with some Jewish leaders criticising Trump for what they see as a weak response to neo-Nazi violence in America. After Trump suggested there were some "very fine people" on both sides of the protests in Charlottesville, the front page of Yediot Ahronot, Israel's most-read newspaper, read "Shame," summing up the attitudes of a fair amount of the population.
Kushner himself: Kushner was always a divisive choice for Middle East envoy given his personal ties to Netanyahu (the Israeli leader once slept in the real estate scion's bedroom while staying in the Kushner family's New Jersey home). But there's a bigger problem: No one can actually work out what Kushner's plan is.
In an off-the-record meeting with White House interns that was later leaked to Wired, even Kushner himself didn't seem sure of his course of action. "What do we offer that's unique? I don't know," he said, later suggesting that there may be "no solution" to the Israel-Palestinian problem.
If Kushner isn't even sure he can do the task he was given, it is hard to see why anyone else should, either.
-Washington Post Syndicate