Jared Kushner speaking at the opening of the United States embassy in Jerusalem, May 14, 2018.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
WASHINGTON – At a standing desk in his cramped, high-ceilinged West Wing office, US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser has labored for nearly two years over a detailed plan for peace in the Middle East. Along the way he has granted a mere handful of interviews, none of which have provided much in substance of a plan that has, up until now, remained the administration’s most closely guarded secret.
But we’re about to see a lot more of Jared Kushner. As he puts the finishing touches on a project he hopes to be his crowning achievement in government, Kushner is preparing to sell it to the public.
State Department sources tell The Jerusalem Post that Kushner recently visited Foggy Bottom to begin preparing for a more public role centered on the plan. Moving into the spotlight would be a relatively new format for the prodigal son-in-law, who has rarely spoken in public since entering the White House. While Trump is likely to announce the plan in a formal speech, Kushner is expected, from that point on, to serve as the public face of the peace effort.
White House officials insist the administration has not settled on a strategic communications strategy for the roll out. But Kushner has beefed up his communications staff in recent weeks with outside hires and State Department veterans as he prepares for the plan’s release. He is anticipating intense media interest both in the contents of the plan, as well as its news value as a vehicle to discuss Kushner’s effectiveness as a government official.
Since joining Trump’s administration with no prior background in public service, Kushner has been criticized as being unqualified to lead such a delicate portfolio as Middle East peace. His White House team is well aware that their successful sale of the plan will in part become a public referendum on Kushner himself.
And without full Republican control over Congress, the president is expected to pivot his focus away from legislating to foreign policy – a move that will place greater emphasis on diplomatic efforts, such as the Kushner plan.
The peace team wants to earn buy-in from regional allies, but also convince domestic pundits, columnists and correspondents that the plan is a sincere effort to jump-start meaningful peace talks. Their roll out will therefore include a robust public affairs strategy that highlights what officials claim to be is the comprehensive nature of the plan.
Officials say the strategy is to convince outside players that the plan is serious, thus compelling the two parties to directly engage with it. He would like to particularly reassure the Palestinians, who have dismissed the administration’s efforts, since Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last winter.
At the UN General Assembly in New York, Trump said he wanted to release the plan by the end of this calendar year. But fallout from the brutal killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident and columnist for The Washington Post, may have altered the plans of his peace team, which has configured the plan to build off of a burgeoning alignment between Israel and the Sunni Arab world.
One official told the Post that the success of the plan relies neither on Saudi Arabia nor on Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in particular. This is despite comments he made before the murder in Istanbul, in which Turkish officials have implicated close aides of the crown prince.
But Jason Greenblatt, the president’s special representative for international negotiations is working daily on the effort alongside Kushner. This week, Greenblatt also acknowledged that improved Israeli ties with Arab nations undergirds the theory of Israeli-Palestinian peace.
“These efforts support our efforts,” Greenblatt wrote on Twitter on Monday, praising Israel’s recent public engagements with Oman and the United Arab Emirates.
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