As Israel and Palestinians Toughen Stance, Kushner to Meet Netanyahu and Abbas

Jared Kushner begins visit as part of Trump administration's efforts to find a way to reignite peace process

File photo: White House senior adviser Jared Kushner arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, July 24, 2017.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Jared Kushner, U.S. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, arrived Wednesday night on a visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority. His presence here a month after the end of the Temple Mount crisis signals a renewed American bid to restart the peace process.

Kushner recently met leaders of several Arab states to explore if they could help jumpstart talks between the two sides. However, both Israeli and Palestinian officials remain skeptical that there is any chance of a breakthrough.

This is Kushner’s third visit to Israel since Trump entered office. He will be accompanied by the U.S. envoy for the peace process Jason Greenblatt, and Deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell. The three have been in the region since Monday, holding talks with leaders in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt.

Kushner and the U.S. delegation are expected to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his office in Jerusalem on Thursday, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that night in the Muqata in Ramallah. On Friday morning Kushner is due to fly back to Washington.

His visit comes at a time when both Israel and the Palestinians’ positions have become significantly more rigid and expectations regarding the peace process are low. Several Palestinian officials said off-the-record in recent days that the American peace team was biased in Israel’s favor and was even reciting Netanyahu’s talking points. Abbas didn’t use these words, but at the beginning of the week he criticized the Trump administration and said at a meeting with a Meretz delegation that he didn’t understand the White House’s conduct on the peace process.

Abbas is conditioning his cooperation with the U.S. peace initiative on the Americans publicly stating their commitment to the two-state solution and their objection to continued construction in the settlements. He said at the meeting with Meretz that Kushner and Greenblatt have already expressed, in talks with him, support for those two points, but hesitate to say as much to Netanyahu.

Palestinian officials said that if Kushner’s visit fails to yield positive results from their point of view, they would consider resuming the international campaign for statehood in UN institutions. This would mean pushing for a declaration at the UN General Assembly in support of accepting Palestine as a full UN member, and increasing efforts to sue Israel in the International Criminal Court at The Hague.

Israeli officials are likewise displaying indifference to Kushner’s visit. At a briefing to reporters on Wednesday after his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Netanyahu evaded questions about Kushner and the American delegation’s visit.

In recent weeks, on the background of the police investigations against him, Netanyahu voiced especially hawkish stances on the Palestinian issue. At a rally organized for him some two weeks ago, Netanyahu expressed his objection to the establishment of a Palestinian state and to any withdrawal from the West Bank.

Egyptians urge Kushner on

The American delegation came to Israel from Cairo, where Kushner and his colleagues met President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and intelligence chief Khaled Fawzy. The Egyptian officials urged Kushner to intensify efforts to renew the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians and expressed their willingness to help with both sides.

A senior American official said Kushner and the delegates briefed Sissi about their talks with other Arab leaders and told him they were trying to formulate a clearly defined outline to renew the peace process. Kushner told Sissi he was interested in hearing the Arab states’ point of view in a bid to achieve tangible progress in renewing the talks.

The Egyptian president’s spokesman said after the meeting with Kushner that Sissi stressed in his meeting with the American delegation that he attributed considerable importance to achieving a comprehensive, just solution to the Palestinian issue, especially due to the effect the ongoing conflict has on the region.

Sissi told Kushner that an Israel-Palestinian peace agreement would help create a new reality in the Middle East and refute the arguments used by the terrorist organizations in the region.

Shoukry briefed the delegates on his talks with Palestinian officials in recent days, emphasizing that the United States must step up efforts to renew the peace process. “The standstill in the peace process has negative repercussions and affects security and stability in the entire region,” Shoukry said, according to the Egyptian Foreign Ministry’s spokesman.

The spokesman said Shoukry suggested to Kushner ideas for steps that could encourage the Israelis and Palestinians to return to the negotiating table. He said it was important for the United States to set a clear timetable for the talks, and agreed-upon principles that would be the basis for resuming negotiations.

He also said any permanent arrangement must be based on the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, which would live in peace and security beside Israel.

“Solving the Palestinian issue will help to achieve stability and stop the violence and tension in the Middle East,” Shoukry said.

On Tuesday Kushner and the delegation members met Jordan’s King Abdullah in Amman. The king told Trump’s advisers that “the two-state solution is the only way to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

A day earlier Kushner and the delegation met Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The White House didn’t issue a statement about the meeting’s content, while the Saudi side said only that the sides “agreed to support the efforts to achieve a real and viable peace between Israel and the Palestinians.”