Jared Kushner’s Middle East Peace Plan Likely Dead On Arrival
Jared Kushner's long-awaited Middle East peace plan is still awaiting release, but it already appears to be dead on arrival.
Sometime in the next couple of weeks, we are supposed to see at least the outlines of the Middle East Peace Plan that Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner has apparently come up with in what will be the next likely quixotic American efforts to forge a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. If the report that dropped overnight by The Washington Post is any indication, though, this one is most likely already dead on arrival:
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered a sobering assessment of the prospects of the Trump administration’s long-awaited Middle East peace plan in a closed-door meeting with Jewish leaders, saying “one might argue” that the plan is “unexecutable” and it might not “gain traction.” He expressed his hope that the deal isn’t simply dismissed out of hand.
“It may be rejected. Could be in the end, folks will say, ‘It’s not particularly original, it doesn’t particularly work for me,’ that is, ‘It’s got two good things and nine bad things, I’m out,’ ” Pompeo said in an audio recording of the private meeting obtained by The Washington Post.
“The big question is can we get enough space that we can have a real conversation about how to build this out,” he said.
The remarks are the most unvarnished comments to date from a U.S. official about President Trump’s “deal of the century,” an effort to resolve the intractable Israeli-Palestinian dispute he has entrusted to his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and former lawyer Jason Greenblatt.
The unveiling of the plan has been repeatedly delayed, a point Pompeo noted.
“This has taken us longer to roll out our plan than I had originally thought it might — to put it lightly,” he said at a meeting on Tuesday of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, a New York-based group that addresses concerns of the Jewish community.
In trying to manage expectations, he said there are “no guarantees that we’re the ones that unlock it,” he said, referring to the frozen conflict. “I hope everyone will engage in a serious way.”
He also recognized the popular notion that the agreement will be one-sided in favor of the Israeli government. “I get why people think this is going to be a deal that only the Israelis could love,” he said. “I understand the perception of that. I hope everyone will just give the space to listen and let it settle in a little bit.”
Since the U.S. president announced plans to solve the decades-old conflict, the United States has taken actions vehemently opposed by the Palestinians, including recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital without a final-status agreement, cutting funding to the Palestinian Authority and the U.N. refugee agency that serves it, forcing its diplomatic office in Washington to close, and recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
Two attendees said they left with the impression that Pompeo was not optimistic the plan would succeed. “He was not in any way confident that the process would lead to a successful conclusion,” said one of the attendees, both of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity because the terms of the meeting were off the record.
Elan Carr, the State Department’s special envoy to combat anti-Semitism who also attended the meeting, expressed a different view, saying he thought Pompeo “provided a hopeful assessment over the prospect of a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.”
“It was an excellent briefing that was very well received by the conference,” he said in a statement offered by the State Department.
Aaron David Miller, a former negotiator and analyst on Middle East issues for both Republican and Democratic administrations, said the remarks were “the most revealing and real assessment of the plan that I’ve heard so far.”
“The fact that Pompeo so easily conceded the perception — and likely the reality — that the plan was strongly structured and tilted toward the Israelis is striking,” Miller said.
There’s no indication of when we might see the plan, whatever it amounts to, in full, but it’s likely that recent events have caused the calendar to be pushed back significantly. Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to successfully cobble together a Knesset majority necessary to form a government despite having appeared to win the election back at the beginning of April. As a result, the nation faces a second round of elections on September 17th. Given the precarious political situation in Israel during this interregnum, it’s unlikely that the plan will be rolled out during the summer. Additionally, regardless of the results of the September elections, it will likely take the winner anywhere from a month to six weeks to form a government so that pushes the date further back into the middle to late October at the earliest, and possibly not until November.
Another potential complication is the possibility that Prime Minister Netanyahu could pull a move related to the West Bank as part of his efforts to win re-election:
Pompeo said the State Department had given “quite a bit of consideration” to what it would do if the plan “doesn’t gain traction.”
“I don’t want to call it failing,” he said. “Call it whatever. I fail a lot, so it’s not about not using a word like that.”
The contingency planning includes how to respond if the Israeli government decides to annex territory in the West Bank, a move many believe would be a final death knell to a two-state solution.
As part of his election campaign, Netanyahu pledged to annex Israeli settlements in the West Bank if he won, a move considered illegal by much of the international community. He also may face pressure from right-wing coalition partners to take advantage of the remaining time before the next U.S. election.
A peace plan that lays down Israel’s right to sovereignty over certain areas of the West Bank could bolster calls from those pushing for annexation.
If Israel did go ahead with annexation, the administration would then consider “what would be the best ways to achieve the outcomes that we think are in America and Israel’s best interests,” Pompeo said.
These reported remarks come at the same time that Bloomberg is reporting that Jared Kushner is questioning whether Palestinians are capable of governing themselves:
Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner said in an interview that the Palestinians aren’t yet able to govern themselves and declined to promise them an independent state in the White House’s long-awaited Mideast peace plan.
“The hope is that they over time will become capable of governing,” Kushner said in an interview with Axios on HBO that aired on Sunday.
Kushner is leading a White House effort to draft a new peace proposal for the Israelis and Palestinians, and Trump said Sunday he believed a deal could probably be reached. The effort faltered after Trump announced in 2017 he would move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. The Palestinians have said they will boycott an economic conference in Bahrain this month that Kushner arranged as a first step in the peace plan.
In the interview, Kushner repeatedly criticized Palestinian leaders, drawing a distinction between their drive for an independent state and what he said was the Palestinian people’s desire to live in peace and prosperity. Kushner is notoriously press-averse and the interview represents some of his most extensive public remarks since joining his father-in-law’s administration.
“There are some things the current Palestinian government has done well, and there are some things that are lacking,” Kushner said. “And I do think that in order for the area to be investable, for investors to want to come in and invest in different industry and infrastructure and create jobs, you do need to have a fair judicial system, you need to have freedom of press, freedom of expression, tolerance for all religions.”
Many U.S. allies in the region, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, are autocracies that reject the democratic principles Kushner demanded of the Palestinian government.
Kushner would not commit to U.S. support for an independent Palestinian state and said there’s a “high bar” for Palestinians to be free from interference in their affairs by the Israeli government and military.
“If you don’t have a proper governance structure and proper security, when people are living in fear of terror that hurts the Palestinians, it hurts the Israelis just the same,” Kushner said.
Given these reports, it isn’t surprising that the Palestinians are already skeptical about whatever plan the United States is going to put forward. The Trump Administration has certainly given them a reason to feel that way, after all. While previous American Presidents have been close to and generally supportive of Israel and Israeli policies, the Trump Administration has demonstrated that it is far more clearly biased toward Israel in general and the policies advanced by Prime Minister Netanyahu in particular than any previous American Administration.
Perhaps the best example of that came early in Trump’s Presidency when he followed through on his campaign promise to move the United States Embassy in Israel from its historic location in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. While previous American Presidents had made this promise, and Congress had passed a law requiring the move absent a waiver signed by the President, Trump was the one who followed through on it within his first year in office. Initially, Trump signed the same waiver in June 2017, but when that waiver came up for renewal six months later, he instead decided to pull the plug and make a move that pretty much every Middle East expert said was a bad idea unless and until there is a final peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. More recently, Trump stated on Twitter that he had taken Jerusalem “off the table,” a comment he repeated when he met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland last year. Yet another example can be found in Vice-President Pence’s speech to the Knesset in January 2018 in which he said to Israeli officials and the public that “your cause is our cause, your values are our values, and your fight is our fight.” In addition to this, the Trump Administration has cut off aid to the Palestinian government in the West Bank and Gaza that had been in place since the George W. Bush Administration and closed the Palestinian diplomatic office in Washington, D.C.
Taking all of these actions together, it would be natural for the Palestinians to distrust anything coming out of the Trump Administration in the way of a “peace plan,” especially one being put together by an utter amateur like Kushner whose family has a financial interest in the expansion of Israeli control over the West Bank. Because of all of this, there is no longer any reason for them to believe that the United States is any kind of an unbiased middle man in any peace negotiations, at least not as long as it’s led by this President.
In the end, of course, no peace plan put together by outsiders is going to solve the seven-decade-old conflict between Israel and the Palestinians unless and until both sides want there to be a peace plan. This is a lesson that countless Presidents from Nixon to Obama seem to have forgotten every time they wade into the quagmire to try to force a solution on parties that clearly aren’t ready for.
That isn’t to say that there haven’t been some successes when American Presidents have gotten involved in the Middle East peace process, of course. The most notable examples of that success can be found in the Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel in which President Carter and his foreign policy team played a crucial role and the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization during President Clinton’s time in office. The important thing about both of those cases, though, is that they occurred relatively early in the terms of the American Presidents involved. The Camp David Accords occurred in the second year of Carter’s term, for example, and the initial agreements in the Oslo Accord were signed in Washington in the second year of President Clinton’s first term. Thanks largely to the Iran Hostage Crisis, President Carter never really pursued additional efforts at Middle East Peace after Camp David. President Clinton was slightly more successful with a memorandum that came out of talks in 1998, but these were largely a continuation of the Oslo process begun five years earlier. When Clinton tried to push the process further in 2000, it proved to be utterly unsuccessful. Similarly, an effort by the first Bush Administration and the Soviet Union to bring the parties together in Madrid in 1991 in the wake of the Persian Gulf War proved to be largely unsuccessful. The efforts of other Americans Presidents proved to be even more forlorn in that they didn’t even result in the scheduling of talks between the parties. Ultimately, of course, all of these efforts proved to be unsuccessful in that they failed to reach their real goal, the creation of some sort of comprehensive final resolution of the issues between Israel, the Palestinians, and the rest of the Arab world that resolves issues that the parties have been fighting about in one form or another since the founding of the State of Israel in 1948.
There’s one thing that differentiates the successful efforts made the American Presidents from those that have failed, of course, and that is the fact that the parties involved were willing to talk to each other, to begin with, or had already begun the process of talking before the United States became involved. Most famously, Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin were talking and meeting long before President Carter brought them to Camp David to hammer out a final agreement. Similarly, Yitzhak Rabin was at least willing to talk to Yassir Arafat and other PLO representatives during the run-up to the Oslo Accords, and Arafat had seemingly finally come to the realization that pursuing a strategy of terrorism was doomed to fail. Without those elements in place, any effort by any American President to bring about that elusive “Middle East Peace” is going to fail.
This is, in the end, the problem that this Administration faces even taking the fact that it cannot claim to be an unbiased peace broker due to the actions and statements above off the table. For differing reasons, neither side in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict trusts each other enough to take the next step in the peace process. From the Israeli point of view, the fact that Hamas continues to control Gaza under a putative agreement with the Palestinian Authority is an issue due to that organizations refusal to even acknowledge that Israel has a right to exist, and it’s efforts to attack innocent Israelis, something prompted a war in Gaza that lasted nearly two months and led to the deaths of countless numbers of civilians. On the Israeli side, the continued expansion of West Bank settlements, and the threat of annexation noted above continues to be a roadblock to any eventual deal, as does the general perception that Prime Minister doesn’t want a deal at this point in time.
There will be peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians when the two sides are ready for it, and at no point sooner than that.