What Kushner's canceled trip to Israel might mean

"There is no reason to release a plan now if one wanted it to be seriously considered," former ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro told The Jerusalem Post.

Jared Kushner and Benjamin Netanyahu (photo credit: US EMBASSY)
Jared Kushner and Benjamin Netanyahu
(photo credit: US EMBASSY)
WASHINGTON – The decision of Jared Kushner to cancel the peace team’s visit to Israel, citing weather conditions and a delayed flight, left experts in Washington and Jerusalem confused. It is not the first time the team shifted gear and sped up toward a release of the plan – just to hold back a few days later.
Similarly, it was exactly 40 days before Israel’s September election, when the senior adviser was on his way to a dramatic visit in the region, including six countries in one week, and the entire political system was on its edge. Yediot Aharonot reported then that Kushner would invite Arab leaders to a summit at Camp David in Maryland, at which US President Donald Trump would lay out his vision for peace in general terms. The summit did not take place.
In recent weeks, the team has begun once again to consider a release of “the ultimate deal,” even before the elections. They waited almost a year, since Israel entered the endless election cycle, to release a document that had been finalized long ago – and no one can rule out a possible fourth round of elections. Besides that, the 2020 US presidential campaign is already under way. If they were to wait now, the plan likely will not be made public at least until the presidential elections and maybe indefinitely.
Avi Berkowitz’s visit to Israel on January 7 was the first sign that the peace team means business. He met both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz to discuss a possible rollout of the peace initiative. On Sunday, he crossed the Atlantic again – this time for meetings in London with Middle East officials.
From there, Berkowitz took a flight to Davos, Switzerland, to join Kushner and Brian Hook. They held several meetings with additional Middle East officials to hear feedback on the possible rollout. Their final stop was supposed to be Israel, where they were expected to meet Netanyahu and Gantz again before making a final decision about the timing of the release.
ON WEDNESDAY afternoon, they abruptly returned to Washington, citing bad weather that would allegedly make the snap visit even shorter. But the team did not reschedule its visit, leaving people wondering if that means a release announcement is imminent – or not.
“Expectations are rising in Israel that Trump is about to present his plan,” former US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro told The Jerusalem Post.
“Netanyahu clearly wants [release of the plan] to change the subject from his upcoming corruption trial, and Gantz seems to sense it is coming and is trying to prepare for it,” he said. “But Kushner’s last-minute cancellation of his visit, [which was] understood as final coordination for the plan’s release, has caused some confusion.”
“There is no reason to release a plan now if one wanted it to be seriously considered,” Shapiro said. “There is no Israeli government that can act on it, and from everything we know, the Palestinians will reject it immediately. It will be dead on arrival.”
The only reasons to release the plan now would be political ones: “either to try to help Netanyahu in the Israeli election or to shore up Trump’s base voters and donors who oppose two states,” he said.
The peace team has remained secretive, guarding the details and rollout schedule of the plan, according to Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice president for research at FDD in Washington.
“The Israeli press was certain that the plan was slated to be unveiled in the coming days,” he told the Post. “But the indications on the US side were never there. This could mean a setback, or it could mean nothing.”
“I would not fault Trump or his team for waiting,” he said. “Better to release at the right time with a better chance of success. How long it takes to unveil is not important in the grand scheme of things.”
Schanzer said he hopes we won’t see it before the elections, “because it could influence how Israelis vote. I would not want a US diplomatic effort to tip the balance one way or the other among Israel voters. The US should not have that kind of influence in another country’s elections.”
Nobody knows what really happened that led Kushner to return to Washington, according to Ilan Goldenberg, senior fellow and director of the Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security.
“Nobody knows if canceling the trip means canceling the release of the plan,” he told the Post. “One theory is that [Kushner] went to Davos and got an earful from all kinds of international players who basically said this is not a good idea.” It “could probably be some people who matter to them, such as some of the Middle Eastern states. It could be [the reason], but we don’t know.”
Releasing the plan before the elections could hurt American credibility, as well as the Israelis and Palestinians, Goldenberg said.
“The biggest winner if there is no plan is American credibility and the Israelis and Palestinians,” he said.