Kushner and the lessons of history

Depending on the starting point selected, the rights and wrongs of each party’s position in a political dispute can look very different.

Jared Kushner  (photo credit: REUTERS)
Jared Kushner
(photo credit: REUTERS)
But in effect Kushner was not only stating the obvious, but actually reiterating his fatherin- law’s own take on the situation. “A lot of people say an agreement can’t be made,” said Trump, back on the presidential trail, “which is OK – sometimes agreements can’t be made.” But he added: “I will give it one hell of a shot.”
One thing is certain – Kushner may be experiencing a dark night of the soul, but he has not given up. Where he may be misleading himself is in rejecting the lessons of history. Underlying some of his remarks is a world-weary frustration that is almost palpable. How many apparently endless discussions are exposed in: “You know everyone finds an issue, that ‘You have to understand what they did then’ and ‘You have to understand that they did this.’” One can sense the endless discussions he must have endured with one or other of the parties, blinded by their own claims and grievances. He has clearly lost patience with the tit-for-tat recriminations.
“How does that help us get peace?” he asks.
He may be right on that matter. It can’t. But he is wrong in the conclusion he drew that afternoon in Washington.
“Let’s not focus on that,” he said. “We don’t want a history lesson. We’ve read enough books. Let’s focus on how do you come up with a conclusion to the situation.”
But the would-be peacemaker who ignores history gets buried by it. History is at the very heart of the problem he faces. If there is ever to be a deal, it cannot possibly be achieved without an in-depth understanding of the history of the Holy Land, because both the Jewish People’s claim to the land, and the refutation of that claim in the Palestinian narrative, are rooted in past events.
Many are the wise words spoken about the importance of understanding the impact of history on the present. “Those who cannot remember the past,” said George Santayana, “are condemned to repeat it.” The novelist William Faulkner observed strikingly: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Nowhere is that more true than in the Middle East, and in Israel- Palestine in particular.
An inescapable aspect of historical events is that they have no real beginning. Depending on the starting point selected, the rights and wrongs of each party’s position in a political dispute can look very different. With respect to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, the Jewish narrative probably begins some 5,000 years ago; the Palestinian one in the late nineteenth century perhaps, with the start of the proactive return to the Holy Land of Jewish settlers. Between 1881 and 1897 – that is, before the formal foundation of the Zionist movement – some 20 new settlements were created by the Hovevei Zion (Lovers of Zion).
If a deal acceptable to both sides is ever to be achieved, attempts to reconcile wildly varying interpretations of historical events would have to be put aside – a delicate task in itself. In short, to get viable peace talks off the ground the skills of an expert deal-maker are required. Fortunately an acknowledged expert in the field is available. If there is one thing about Trump that his greatest friends and most impassioned enemies are agreed on, it is that he is a great deal-maker. Deal-making has been the key to his business success, which has been considerable. And way back in the 1980s he co-authored The Art of the Deal, which reached No. 1 on The New York Times best seller list and stayed there for 13 weeks.
It was during his presidential campaign that Trump, vehemently opposing a UN Security Council vision of a two-state solution, outlined his deal-making philosophy.
“An agreement imposed by the United Nations would be a total and complete disaster... that’s not how you make a deal. Deals are made when parties come together... and they negotiate. Each side must give up something [of]... value in exchange for something that it requires. That’s what a deal is.” And after meeting Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, he declared “I think there’s a very, very good chance” of achieving a deal. Perhaps the moment is not far off when Jared Kushner, having laid as much groundwork as he can, ought to hand the lead over to his fatherin- law.
The writer is Middle East correspondent for Eurasia Review. His latest book is The Chaos in the Middle East: 2014-2016. He blogs at: www.amid- east-journal.blogspot.com.