WASHINGTON — Jared Kushner’s trip to the Middle East this week was planned long before Israel entered its current political crisis, which could lead Wednesday to a new general election.
It has been in the works since shortly after the White House recently unveiled its economic conference scheduled to take place in Bahrain on June 25-26. In fact, journalist Gili Cohen of Kan News already reported last week that Kushner would likely visit Israel in the near future.
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And yet when the White House confirmed his trip on Tuesday, the coverage in the Israeli media inevitably focused on the fact that Kushner will be in the region to discuss the peace plan at the same time Netanyahu is facing the possibility of losing an election he had already won.
Should the prime minister fail to form a new governing coalition by Wednesday night, Israel will head to new elections. Whether or not that happens, Kushner will arrive the very next morning to see Netanyahu in Jerusalem.
The visit, which was originally meant simply to boost the Bahrain conference by convincing more countries to announce their participation, will now carry another message, intended or not: That for Kushner and the rest of the team working on the peace plan within the Trump administration, it’s “business as usual,” no matter what happens in the Knesset.
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Whether or not Netanyahu manages to cobble together a coalition, the Bahrain conference will still happen — and leaders in the region are getting ready for the publication of the plan’s economic chapter. That’s how Kushner’s arrival was interpreted in media reports on Tuesday.
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This message should be viewed with skepticism and caution, however. Last September, at a speech before the UN, U.S. President Donald Trump declared that the peace plan would be presented by February at the latest — yet when Netanyahu dissolved his own coalition last December and led Israel to new elections, the White House chose Netanyahu’s political schedule over Trump’s own timetable and delayed the release of the plan.
No one will be shocked if new elections in Israel lead to another delay, regardless of what the administration may say in the near future.
Since entering the White House two years ago, there has only been a single instance in which Trump showed he was willing to pay a political price for advancing his own Middle East peace plan. In June 2017, he delayed his election promise to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem by six months, explaining that he first wanted to give a chance to peace negotiations. Some of his right-wing critics used that decision to portray him as not truly committed to Israel.
Ever since, Trump’s entire Middle East policy has been aimed at one goal alone: Satisfying his base of evangelical Christian voters, the majority of whom are huge Netanyahu fans. This approach is what fueled the embassy move, and every other decision taken by Trump on Israel — up to the latest controversy of the tweet on Memorial Day in which he tried to help Netanyahu gain another term in the Prime Minister’s Office.
If Netanyahu will have even the slightest reservation about the American plan coming out during the course of another election, would anyone in the White House hesitate for one minute before once again letting the Israeli prime minister set the agenda? It remains to be seen.
The White House has allowed Netanyahu so far to set the schedule of its own peace plan; now the administration is finding out that Netanyahu’s own schedule is being set by Avigdor Lieberman.