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From the Passport Stamp Controversy to Trump's Son-in-law

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Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump depart a news conference at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 5, 2017.
Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump depart a news conference at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 5, 2017.Credit: Kevin Lamarque/REUTERS

In the spring of 1964, as former U.S. President Lyndon Johnson was preparing for his presidential election campaign, eager to please supporters of Israel, a compromise was reached over a diplomatic controversy regarding passport stamps. It turns out that the consuls at the American consulate in Jerusalem, who reported directly to the State Department in Washington and not to the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, carried a stamp in their passports with the words “Jerusalem, Palestine.” The Israeli government refused to renew their visas, but the Johnson administration dug in its heels for a year, until finding an acceptable formula that was veiled in secrecy.

The consul who had been denied a visa, Robert H. Munn, would be issued a second passport that would bear the name Jerusalem without Palestine. Israel would issue him a visa on this passport and, based on that visa number, Mann would be allowed to enter and leave the country. But the passport would be placed in a safe in Washington and Mann would continue to carry his original passport. From then on, the U.S. State Department would desist from noting that new consuls were being posted to Palestine and would no longer use the explosive word on stamps and paperwork. In addition, a claim by Israel that the word Palestine appeared on a sign on the door of the consul’s office was refuted.

All of this was regarding West Jerusalem, which was under Israeli control even before the 1967 Six-Day War. The controversy predated the upcoming May 3 meeting in Washington between U.S. President Donald Trump and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas by more than 50 years. It was resurrected due to the failed presidency of Trump, who won’t bother perusing the collection of secret documents regarding U.S.-Russian relations, including the Arab-Israeli conflict, which the State Department released this month.

It’s been three months since Trump’s inauguration, yet the U.S. Embassy hasn’t undertaken any plans to move to Jerusalem. The new American president has realized all of a sudden that the situation is complicated, just like his situation. He began his presidency at a low and has continued to sink even lower. His approval ratings are dismal. A Republican rout is expected in mid-term Congressional elections in November of next year, and even within his Republican Party, there will be those who will seek to thwart his running for a second presidential term in 2020.

Foreign visitors stream to the White House, but there is an embarrassing emptiness there behind the power of Trump’s son-in-law-adviser, Jared Kushner. The senior adviser was ridiculed as ostensibly taking a crash course on the Middle East while waiting for ski lifts on vacation.

His father, Charles Kushner, who combined his real estate business activities and wheeling and dealing in the Democratic Party, was convicted and jailed after his former chief bookkeeper testified that $100,000 of the elder Kushner’s company funds was paid to his friend Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a bit more to former U.S. President Bill Clinton, in speakers’ fees. They acted in accordance with the law. Charles Kushner had not.

Kushner and Trump have pretensions to succeed in a Middle East that frustrated the efforts of experienced diplomats such as George Shultz of the United States and Eduard Shevardnadze of the Soviet Union, among the heroes of the tome of American documents that has just been declassified. In 1988, five years before the signing of the Oslo Accords, Shevardnadze as Soviet foreign minister surprised Shultz, the secretary of state, with a proposal to get former Foreign Minister Shimon Peres together with former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Shultz had opposed the creation of an independent Palestinian state, saying that Palestinian identity should be expressed through a confederation headed by Jordan. It was fine to have Arafat and Peres meet, but not before Knesset elections due less than a month and a half later.

Then George H.W. Bush won the presidency. Peres lost. Shultz launched a dialogue with Arafat but the peace process faltered for three more years until the Madrid conference. Now, once again, American and Israeli politics are not in sync. Both Washington and Jerusalem are laboring under serious leadership crises that will continue as long as Trump and Netanyahu keep at it.

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