WASHINGTON - Former peace negotiators are divided on whether Jared Kushner’s loss of access to top secret intelligence will hurt his attempts to promote an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, after it was reported Tuesday that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly had “downgraded” his security clearance.
“While losing access to top secret intelligence will limit some of the information that Mr. Kushner will have access to, it will not fundamentally alter his ability to negotiate successfully between Israelis and Palestinians,” said Robert Danin, a former senior State Department and National Security Council official.
“For example,” Danin said, “he will still be able to engage with and be briefed by the intelligence community since he is reportedly retaining a ‘secret’ clearance.”
He added, however, that the downgrade “could prove to be a limitation down the line, should serious and ongoing Israeli-Palestinian negotiations ever get going in earnest. In such a situation, one window that could provide insights into the parties’ attitudes and behavior will be closed, at least partially.”
Danin’s comments touch on the fact that Kushner will still have access to some intelligence – just not the kind classified as “top secret.”
It’s unclear if other members of the Middle East peace team that Kushner leads – such as envoy Jason Greenblatt – do have this kind of access.
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But while Kushner has lost the ability to directly receive and read such intelligence on a daily basis, he will still be able to request briefings from the relevant intelligence and security agencies. These agencies would become more involved if and when negotiations become more serious.
“Negotiating without intelligence leaves you foggy – like on Purim trying to tell the difference between Blessed be Mordecai and Cursed be Haman,” said Dan Shapiro, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel.
“It’s not a complete disqualifier, but it deprives you of important background that informs your work,” he told Haaretz. “Perhaps more practically, it makes it hard to function within a team of other government officials who have such clearances.”
Aaron David Miller, who worked on Israeli-Arab negotiations under Republican and Democratic administrations, wrote that Kushner’s loss of “top secret” clearance could lead to a “loss of credibility” in the eyes of his international interlocutors.
“They know you can’t be reading about them,” Miller explained. And yet, he added, “the key to a deal has nothing to do with [U.S. President Donald] Trump, Kushner, Bozo the Clown or anyone’s security clearance. It has everything to do with decisions and choices Israelis and Palestinians are unable or unwilling to make.”
Dennis Ross, another former senior Middle East peace negotiator who served in the Bush, Clinton and Obama administrations, told CNN that “over the years in all the negotiations I did, I found that the intelligence is not as important as the direct meetings. The intelligence was not a big factor when it came to doing the negotiations themselves.”
In the same news story, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk said the loss of access will make Kushner’s work “more difficult,” but he also said it won’t be a “critical setback.”
The White House on Wednesday referred media requests on the subject of the security clearance to a statement published last week by Kelly, in which he expressed his confidence in Kushner’s work on the Israeli-Palestinian file.
Kelly said at the time: “I will not comment on anybody’s specific security clearance situation or go beyond the memo released last week. As I told Jared days ago, I have full confidence in his ability to continue performing his duties in his foreign policy portfolio including overseeing our Israeli-Palestinian peace effort and serving as an integral part of our relationship with Mexico. Everyone in the White House is grateful for these valuable contributions to furthering the President’s agenda.”
Despite this statement, a number of news outlets reported on Wednesday that the security clearance question was creating tensions between Kelly and Kushner, as well as other members of the Trump family.
Axios reported that Trump’s son, Donald Jr., had criticized Kelly for his handling of the situation, while CNN reported that Kelly was angry over the involvement of Ivanka Trump, Kushner’s wife, in foreign policy issues.
Aside from the security clearance question, Kushner also had to deal Tuesday with the news that his spokesman, Josh Raffel, is leaving the White House.
Raffel, a former public relations consultant, handled media issues related to Kushner’s work in the administration, including the Israeli-Palestinian file. He is considered personally close to Kushner and Ivanka Trump.
Raffel is expected to remain in the White House for the next few weeks, before returning to the private sector.
On Wednesday, he released a short statement denying reports in Arab news outlets about the supposed contents of the Trump administration’s upcoming peace plan.
“It is unfortunate that some parties are seeking to prejudice people against our unfinished plan, which these sources have not seen,” he said. “Nobody should be basing their reaction, public or private, on these reports. In the meantime, we remain hard at work on the real draft plan that will benefit both sides.”