Lack of negotiation likely to doom Kushner’s peace plan

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Lack of negotiation likely to doom Kushner’s peace plan

Jared Kushner, the son-in-law and a senior adviser of US President Donald Trump, is expected to release his plan for peace in the Middle East sometime shortly after the April 9 Israeli elections. There has been much speculation as to the content of this peace plan and the promise of its ideas, but not much optimism. The continued secrecy does not bode well for success.

White House advisers and aides have supposedly spent almost two years working on their concept, but no one else knows what it entails. They drafted it behind closed doors, without the participation of Israel, the Palestinian Authority (PA) or any regional neighbors. Although peace should be everyone’s ultimate goal, we should not get too excited for a mystery concept designed in an office 9,500 kilometers away.

Successful peace treaties result from one of two scenarios: Either a victor has so completely defeated its opponent that the defeated side commits to “unconditional surrender;” or the more common scenario occurs, when both sides realize that peace is in their best interests and they negotiate and compromise to come to an agreement that both can abide. This latter scenario is what is needed to end the intransigent struggles that Kushner hopes to address, and yet he and his colleagues have ignored the most vital component of building such a peace: Negotiation.

It is said that Kushner did not disclose details of his grand deal even at the conference on Middle East issues in Warsaw last week. He promoted it there, but he did not tell anyone what was in it. According to the Wall Street Journal, Kushner “frustrated a moderator by refusing to answer a question about whether the plan provided for a two-state solution,” even though this has been a recommendation of US presidents for almost 30 years. Kushner only answered that the White House “wouldn’t use ‘labels’ that are ‘divisive,’ adding that the US plan would identify a process that would define how Israel and Palestinians should interact.” This response is awkwardly cryptic.

Not only have Kushner and his colleagues authored their own plan for a peace between two other peoples, but they are now insisting that it must be kept secret from those very people

Ellen R. Wald

Not only have Kushner and his colleagues authored their own plan for a peace between two other peoples, but they are now insisting that it must be kept secret from those very people. The White House has a good reason to delay talk of its plans until after April 9. Israel holds elections on that day, and the Trump administration — unlike its predecessor — does not want to interfere with the Israeli elections. Thus, it is reasonable to wait to talk about any peace plans, but it is not reasonable to tease it over and over without releasing it. Kushner is expected to travel around the Gulf countries later this month touting some aspects of the plan, more than a month before he shares it with Israel or the PA.

For some reason, Kushner feels the need to talk about his plan without actually sharing it. This comes across as either pure marketing or paternalism. Either he is trying to hype his plan with teasers so that everyone becomes excited about its release, or the White House team simply thinks that it can solve the world’s problems without the world’s help — without even informing the world.

So far, parties in the Middle East have not expressed great excitement about the mystery plan. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried to be diplomatic when he said that the Middle East problem is a “tough one.” Speaking to Kushner, Netanyahu added: “But if you are crazy enough, and I think you just might be, you can come up with new ideas.” Netanyahu would not address whether these new ideas might be valuable or not. That was not praise or a sign of confidence.

While Palestinian delegations declined to attend the Warsaw conference, Palestinian representatives have been clear to reject a White House deal even though they have not seen it. Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman for PA President Mahmoud Abbas, said: “There will be no peace and stability in the Middle East without a peaceful solution that leads to a Palestinian state, with Jerusalem as its capital.” This is a clear rejection of anything that Israel might be willing to accept, because Israel has maintained that it would not make a peace deal requiring it to relinquish Jerusalem.

The lack of interest from both the Israeli prime minister and the PA for this mystery plan is not a good sign. Kushner is clearly hoping to generate support from the Gulf countries, which might snowball into interest from the parties directly involved. However, Rudeineh delivered a clear warning to Gulf countries when he said there would be no regional stability until the Palestinians receive something the other side will not relinquish. That is why imposing peace from afar will not work.

The only way to succeed — if it is possible at all right now — is to bring interested parties together to negotiate. Outside parties like the US, Saudi Arabia or the UN can incentivize negotiation and peace, but they cannot establish the framework for the peace. If and when peace comes, it must be according to a negotiated agreement that comes from the participants themselves, not a settlement imposed by others.

• Ellen R. Wald, Ph.D. is a historian and author of “Saudi, Inc.” She is the president of Transversal Consulting and also teaches Middle East history and policy at Jacksonville University. Twitter: @EnergzdEconomy

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