President Donald Trump waded into thorny Middle East politics while at the UN on Wednesday, endorsing the two-state solution to bring an end the decades-long conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. (Sept. 26)
WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, will embark on a diplomatic lobbying blitz for his Middle East peace plan – starting next week in Europe and continuing later this month with stops across the Arab world.
Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s special representative for the Middle East peace negotiations, plan to tout their peace plan during a high-level meeting of foreign ministers and heads of state – including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – in Poland on Feb. 13 and 14. The two Trump advisers will then make a trip to Oman, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and several other Arab countries at the end of February, where they will seek sign-off on the plan but may face deep skepticism.
Trump has dubbed the plan the “Deal of the Century.” But it’s rollout has been delayed for months. And its contents are already deeply controversial, even though few know what the plan entails. Kushner has kept the peace proposal under wraps. The White House hopes to unveil it in April, after Israel’s election.
“For this administration, the definition of success of the rollout is if both parties say … there’s enough in it that is worthy of engagement,” said Nimrod Novik, a one-time adviser for former Israeli President Shimon Peres and now a fellow with the Israel Policy Forum, which is focused on building support in the U.S. for a two-state solution.
“I don’t think they kid themselves that anybody will say, ‘Wow this is wonderful. Where do I sign?’” he said. But they want to avoid having the plan immediately rejected as a nonstarter by either Israel or the Palestinians, he said.
That will not be easy. The White House has deeply alienated the Palestinians with a series of provocative actions, including moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and cutting U.S. aid to Palestinian refugees. In the wake of those steps, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, has refused to engage with the Trump administration, saying the White House is not a neutral broker.
“Given the mood in Ramallah, they need friendly help in urging Abu Mazen not to dismiss it out of hand,” Novik said. That means they have to start building support from European and other Arab leaders now, he said.
The Palestinians were not even initially invited to next week’s Mideast conference in Poland. And Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Abbas, told the Associated Press that the Warsaw meeting will “only lead to futile results.”
The White House did not immediately respond to that criticism or questions about how much Kushner and Greenblatt would reveal about their peace plan in Poland, where leaders from more than 40 countries will gather to discuss Middle East peace and security. But a White House official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said their initial pitch – particularly when they travel to Oman and other Arab countries later this month – will focus on the economic part of the plan.
“Jared is going to share elements of the economic plan to the region. The economic plan only works if the region supports it,” this official said. He did not elaborate on what the economic portion entails, but it’s likely to offer the Palestinians development assistance, among other items.
This official said there is also a political element to the plan but that aspect “will not succeed without a proper economic plan.”
Gerald Feierstein, a former assistant secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs and U.S. ambassador to Yemen, said he sees little chance for success no matter what Kushner and Greenblatt’s strategy is.
“It’s certainly unorthodox that they’re planning on talking about an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan that they have not discussed at all with the Palestinians,” Feierstein said.
“I would say the fundamental mistake the administration is making is that they think they can press for a deal that goes over the head of the Palestinians” by getting other Arab leaders to support it and then have those countries pressure Abbas to go along, Feierstein said. “And I just think that’s a nonstarter.”
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