Washington Watch: The peace scam

If Arab leaders tell Kushner in private what we’re hearing in public, he may be forced to put his “Deal of the Century” back on the shelf.

August 8, 2019 17:54
4 minute read.
WILL THERE be another peace push from Jared Kushner and the White House?

WILL THERE be another peace push from Jared Kushner and the White House?. (photo credit: REUTERS)

First son-in-law Jared Kushner was on a swing through the Middle East this week inviting Arab leaders to meet US President Donald Trump at Camp David in coming weeks for a personal unveiling of his long-promised “Deal of the Century” for Arab-Israeli peace, according to Western and Mideast media reports.

It would be a mistake to call the plan “long-awaited” or “much-anticipated” because no one seems very interested, especially the Israelis and Palestinians. But few, if any, will say so because they don’t want to face the temper of the notoriously thin-skinned and volatile American president.

The White House has officially denied plans are afoot for the summit, but Arab leaders are sending their messages publicly just in case they lose something in translation when Kushner reports to the president. They were unimpressed with part one of Kushner’s peace plan, a “workshop” last June in Bahrain on economic aspects of resolving the conflict, and they don’t want to be part of another dud.

Billed as peace through prosperity, it was a thinly veiled plan to pay the Palestinians $50 billion – where it would come from, nobody knows – to drop their demands for statehood. The response was underwhelming. The Palestinians refused to show up and everyone else sent low-level delegations; there was no outpouring of generosity, not even pledges.

The Trump plan – if it flops the White House will probably dub it the Kushner plan – has been in the works for three years. Latest word it is will debut at Camp David just before the September 17 Israeli elections, by sheer coincidence of course.

The plan has reportedly been developed secretly in close coordination with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his aides. The Israeli prime minister won’t be at the Camp David meeting so as not to make the Arab leaders uncomfortable, if they even show up.

The Palestinians have preemptively rejected the Trump plan and not without good reason. It fails to meet their basic demand for a state with east Jerusalem as its capital and its borders roughly along 1967 lines. Those are also the terms of the Arab Peace Initiative, which Kushner has been told must be in any American plan for it to be viable.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi met in Cairo last week before Kushner’s visit to reaffirm the same terms and to reject any notion of transferring Palestinians to neighboring Arab states, according to The Arab Weekly.

Abdullah reportedly told Kushner he wouldn’t be going to Camp David if it’s “just a photo op” like the Bahrain workshop.

THE KING also isn’t interested in talking to Bibi. The Israeli leader asked for a meeting or at least a phone call but was turned down, according to Arab and Israeli media. The official reason was “difficult relations” between the two countries but it is highly likely that the king doesn’t want to be used as a prop in Bibi’s reelection campaign.

The Likud Party has hung giant campaign posters showing Bibi with Trump, with Russian President Vladimir Putin and with Indian Prime Minister Prime Minister Narendra Modi, each with the heading “Netanyahu: A different league.” Abdullah doesn’t want to join them.

The PLO called on all Arab countries to reject the US proposal, which it termed “an Israeli project to liquidate the Palestinian cause.”

The Palestinian Authority essentially broke relations with the US in response to Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and relocating the American Embassy to the city. The Trump administration also downgraded relations with Palestinians by closing the east Jerusalem consulate and turning the portfolio over to a lower level diplomat; it also closed the PLO office in Washington and deeply slashed humanitarian and development aid for the Palestinians.

Kushner and his team, including Ambassador David Friedman and special envoy Jason Greenblatt, have emphasized that their plan does not endorse a two-state solution or any change in the status of Jerusalem. In other words, it fails to meet basic Arab conditions.

Friedman speaks about “Palestinian autonomy,” but only “up to the point where it interferes with Israeli security,” well short of statehood. Bibi similarly refers to “statehood-minus.”

The US strategy seems to be bypassing the Palestinians by enticing the other Arabs who have grown weary of the Palestinians maximalist demands and unwillingness to make serious compromises and get them to impose a settlement. But that won’t work. Those Arab leaders may not be democratically elected, but they also know it is dangerous to ignore the street where there is considerable emotional support for the Palestinian cause.

This is less a peace plan than a contribution to Bibi’s reelection campaign. He may not attend to avoid discomfiting the Arab leaders, but he will have a presence as the putative co-author with Team Jared, whose three leaders are to the right of the Israeli premier.

Look for Bibi to express some reservations about the plan to superficially show his right wing that he’s not buying the whole package. That will also allow him to portray himself a world leader who Arabs want to deal with, show his American support and still claim Washington can’t dictate terms to him.

It’s the plan no one wants, least of all the Israelis and Palestinians, neither of whom has leaders with any real interest in ending the conflict on other than their own maximalist terms.

If Arab leaders tell Kushner in private what we’re hearing in public, he may be forced to put his “Deal of the Century” back on the shelf. Nothing serious can happen until there is new leadership on all three sides – American, Israeli and Palestinian – prepared to make the tough historic decisions peace demands.

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