Analysis: Election talk throws yet another wrench in U.S. peace plan rollout

Their continuous delay reflects the delicacy of the plan and the administration’s fears of, as one senior official put it, its “death on arrival” if published under adverse circumstances.

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November 19, 2018 03:53
2 minute read.
Jason Greenblatt and Jared Kushner

Jason Greenblatt and Jared Kushner. (photo credit: COURTESY/REUTERS)

 
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WASHINGTON – The Trump administration’s secretive plan for Middle East peace has at its core two primary elements: A comprehensive proposal for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement and a broader plan for diplomatic ties between the Jewish state and the Arab world.

Both have been disrupted in recent weeks, forcing the plan’s architects, Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, to reassess its fate.

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Kushner, US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, and Greenblatt, his senior adviser, have worked on a plan for nearly two years that they themselves acknowledge will hinge on Israeli participation and Arab support. They have crafted proposals in the belief that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a leader uniquely suited in his willingness and capacity to forge peace, and that Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has demonstrated an exceptional interest in making it happen.

But the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident with US residency who wrote columns for a major American newspaper, and the near-collapse of Netanyahu’s governing coalition, which will likely lead to early elections, have dealt two consecutive blows to that paradigm.

It has forced the team to reconsider the president’s preferred timeline for a rollout by the end of the year, or early January. While administration officials say they are not discussing shelving the plan completely – as some Netanyahu allies would prefer they do, as he gears for an election campaign against those to his political Right prepared to assail him for any ground he cedes to the Palestinians – they do acknowledge that recent events are being taken into account as they continue to debate when to proceed with publication.

Their continuous delay reflects the delicacy of the plan and the administration’s fears of, as one senior official put it, its “death on arrival” if published under adverse circumstances.


But the environment, for the peace team, has only gone from bad to worse over the course of a year, beginning with a complete breakdown in communication with the Palestinian Authority after Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December.

Now, with reports that US intelligence agencies assess the Saudi crown prince personally ordered Khashoggi’s brutal killing, the administration faces additional pressures to distance itself from the temperamental leader and rely less on his ascent to the throne to advance its broad Middle East strategy.

And Israeli officials have already begun leaking their preferences that the release be delayed, perhaps indefinitely, in an effort to influence the administration through the media.

The peace team continues to say it will release its plan when the timing is right. But in the interim, they have lost the trust of the Palestinians, missed a moment of political stability in Israel and squandered a period when Mohammed bin Salman’s political capital was at its peak. If the timing was ever ripe for their plan, it may have already passed.

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