Can Kushner revive stalled peace talks?
Since he was assigned this seemingly impossible task, he has been mulling over ways to bring the two sides together. His last visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories in June failed to impress the Palestinians. He and Greenblatt, the White House special representative for international negotiations, were described by a Palestinian official as “like (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu’s advisers and not like fair arbiters.”
Trump had promised to conclude the “ultimate deal” to end the conflict. But following his separate meetings with Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House earlier this year, and his visit to Israel and Bethlehem in May, the administration’s position on the two-state solution, Israeli settlements and other contentious issues remained vague. Kushner was quoted as saying recently that he is not sure what the administration can offer that is unique.
The re-engagement by the Trump administration comes in the wake of last month’s Al-Aqsa crisis. Kushner reportedly intervened to convince Netanyahu to reverse controversial measures in Jerusalem. Greenblatt was credited for recently mediating a water-sharing agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.
The visit — which will also include Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, the UAE and Qatar — comes at a time when relations between Abbas and Netanyahu are at their worst. But both men are facing mounting internal challenges. Abbas, ailing and reportedly frustrated with the US, is battling domestic problems. He has been unable to conclude a deal with Hamas in Gaza to restore Palestinian unity, and is increasingly being pressured to name a successor.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) is cash-strapped, and may soon lose US funding if Congress passes a law demanding that it stop monthly stipends to families of Palestinians convicted by Israel of terrorism. Abbas’ Fatah movement is divided, and his popularity is at its lowest point.
Netanyahu is facing the prospect of criminal indictment on corruption charges, and is fighting for his political survival. It is difficult to gauge the mood of Israeli voters if new elections are held anytime soon. But far-right parties, which reject a peace settlement with the Palestinians, continue to dominate the political arena.
Despite his lack of political experience, Kushner may have already realized that an “ultimate deal” between Netanyahu and Abbas may be impossible. But he could convince them to restart talks without offering any guarantees. Embattled Abbas is ready to cling to anything that will keep him relevant.
Trump’s readiness to live with either a one-state or two-state solution may have been expressed impulsively and as an afterthought, but it aptly describes the possible outcome of the current impasse.
Kushner’s efforts may not lead to a deal, but he will be able to demonstrate that the White House has managed to achieve a breakthrough by reviving direct talks. This will shift attention to another objective that Kushner believes conditions may be ripe for: Accelerating normalization between Arab states and Israel in order to face a common enemy, Iran. This is the view that Netanyahu and his coalition partners embrace.
Kushner’s pro-Israel positions, and his close ties to the far right, have prompted a number of Palestinian officials, most recently Hanan Ashrawi, to question his credibility as a mediator. Arab leaders meeting at the Dead Sea in March reiterated their support for the Arab Peace Initiative (API) as it was originally presented in 2002, debunking rumors that it was to be amended to allow normalization with Israel before a final peace deal with the Palestinians.
For the Palestinians, the parameters of a just and lasting deal with Israel have been spelled out in the API and during direct talks. Kushner and Greenblatt can do little, if anything, to change the conditions for a final-status deal that can be acceptable to both sides. The most that this upcoming trip can achieve is to secure a bilateral commitment to restart direct talks. Both Netanyahu and Abbas may be ready to re-engage, each for his own political benefit.
But the chasm between the two positions has never been wider. Abbas may have bowed to the reality that the two-state option is no longer possible, and that maintaining the status quo, with all its complications, does not serve long-term Israeli interests.
Trump’s readiness to live with either a one-state or two-state solution may have been expressed impulsively and as an afterthought, but it aptly describes the possible outcome of the current impasse. Managing the conflict, by keeping the two parties engaged in yet another round of sterile talks, may be the best that Kushner can do for now.
• Osama Al-Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.
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