A vague comment by President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner in an Arabic language Sky News interview Monday about the still secret U.S. Middle East peace plan set off a flurry of accusations in Israel between Naftali Bennett, the head of the New Right party, and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu who are competing for right wing votes ahead of the April 9th Knesset election. While touring the region to meet with the leaders of pro-U.S. Arab countries, Kushner told Sky News in an Arabic language news interview that the plan will focus on the “redrawing of boundaries and resolving final status issues” between Israel and the Palestinians.
Kushner and Trump’s Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt were touring the region to meet with the leaders of oil-wealthy Persian Gulf states and ask them for contributions to raise the standard of living and economic opportunities for Palestinians, in the false hope that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be resolved simply by throwing enough money at it.
For more than 25 years, the U.S. and its European allies have donated billions of dollars for the economic development of areas ruled by the Palestinian Authority. Most of that money was wasted, or siphoned off by the corrupt cronies of Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas. To this day, a significant portion of contributions from the international community is being used by the Palestinian Authority to richly reward terrorists and their family members, who are celebrated by the P.A. as national heroes for staging deadly attacks on Israel.
The situation is even worse for the Arab residents of Gaza, who live in the most abject poverty while Hamas diverts the humanitarian aid Gaza receives to prepare for its next war with Israel.
The Israeli-Palestinian dispute is not over territory. Israel learned that in 2005 when it voluntarily withdrew from Gaza. Not long after Gaza was completely turned over to Palestinian rule, it became a giant, Hamas-run terrorist base for launching missile and terrorist attacks on Israel.
PALESTINIANS ARE UNINTERESTED IN PEACE
The Palestinians are not interested in good faith negotiations with Israel to resolve the conflict. Time and again over the past 20 years, Palestinian leaders have walked away from the negotiating table in response to generous concessions offered by Israeli leaders to reach a fair peace agreement. Repeated American efforts to revive peace negotiations have been sabotaged by the bad faith of the Palestinian leaders.
For the past five years, the Palestinian leadership has completely abandoned negotiations, choosing instead to seek recognition from the international community without even trying to make peace with Israel. More than a year ago, the PA cut off all diplomatic contact with the U.S. government as well, in an effort to foreclose the possibility of renewing negotiations.
Given the dismal track record of the Palestinian leadership, and its current defiant refusal to even talk with Kushner and Greenblatt, it is hard to see how the American peace initiative, no matter how well-meaning or crafted, could possibly succeed.
WILL TRUMP PRESSURE ISRAEL TO ACCEPT A PALESTINIAN STATE?
In his interview, Kushner declined to discuss any substantive details of the proposal that he and Middle East special envoy Jason Greenblatt have been developing over the past two years. But Bennett said Kushner’s cryptic comment revealed “a clear and immediate danger in front of us: the establishment of a Palestinian state. What Kushner said proves what we already knew. The day after the Israeli elections the Americans will push the Netanyahu-Lapid-Gantz government to allow for the establishment of a Palestinian state along Route 6 [the north-south superhighway built next to the Green Line], to agree to the division of Yerushalayim, and Netanyahu will be forced to acquiesce.”
Bennett added that, “Netanyahu and Trump are coordinating the timing of the plan’s release to be immediately after the elections. Even [Netanyahu’s intention to crawl into] the coalition of the left-wing Lapid-Ganz party is already understood.
“There is only one way to prevent this, and that is with a strong and powerful New Right party, that will recommend Netanyahu [for prime minister], but will exert counter-pressure to stop the establishment of a Palestinian state.
“In the upcoming elections, the question to be asked is ‘New Right or Palestine’,” Bennett concluded.
CAMPAIGN BACK AND FORTH
Netanyahu’s Likud party was quick to issue a statement responding to Bennett’s accusations. It said, “When Bennett and Shaked established the New Right party they said they were doing it in order to pull votes from [Yair] Lapid and [Benny] Gantz [of the newly formed Blue and White faction] to enlarge the right-wing bloc, and that they wouldn’t subject us to ‘friendly fire.’ Now they are making false charges with the goal of pulling votes from Likud, which will bring about the rise of the left-wing government of Lapid and Gantz, whose party will be bigger than Likud.”
Likud also charged that representatives of the New Right have “made contact with Lapid and Gantz and offered to join forces with them after the elections,” while Netanyahu “has made it unequivocally clear that he will form a right-wing government.”
The statement added that, “Prime Minister Netanyahu has safeguarded the Land of Israel and the State of Israel against President Obama’s hostile government and will continue to do so in the face of Trump’s more sympathetic administration,” without adding any speculation about the concessions that the Trump peace plan is likely to ask from Israel.
The New Right was quick to label the Likud claim that Bennett’s party had held made contact with Gantz and Lapid to discuss cooperation after the election as “pure fake news and utter nonsense. The pressure is clear… It’s the New Right or Palestine. Only the New Right will prevent the establishment of Palestine in the Land of Israel.”
Rafi Peretz, chairman of the Jewish Home party, wrote on Twitter that Kushner’s comment about “redrawing of boundaries and resolving final status issues” reminded him of the political rhetoric which preceded the disastrous Gaza Disengagement in 2005, which was carried out by the Likud government headed by Ariel Sharon. Peretz recalled “the difficult pictures of Israeli soldiers evicting families and myself from our homes. Only a large Jewish Home to the right of Netanyahu will fight for our values,” Peretz concluded.
Labor Party Chairman Avi Gabbay was encouraged by Kushner’s remark, which he interpreted the same way that Bennett did, as an indication that the Trump administration will attempt to revive the Oslo negotiations and the two-state solution after the election.
“We welcome the Kushner initiative to advance the political process. Separation from the Palestinians on the basis of a two-state solution is in Israel’s interest. This is our way in the Labor Party,” Gabbay declared.
KUSHNER CALLS FOR SOLUTIONS TO TODAY’S PROBLEMS
In the Sky News interview, Kushner observed that the peace process has been frozen for far too long. “Very little has changed over the last 25 years,” he said, and that there is a need to “formulate realistic and fair solutions to the issues in 2019, to allow people to have better lives.
“We want to bring peace, not fear. We want to ensure there is free flow of people and of goods. We must create new opportunities.”
Kushner said his plan focuses on a few basic principles. “First is freedom, we want people to have freedom. Freedom of opportunities, religion, worship regardless of their beliefs, in addition to respect.
“The dignity of people must be preserved and they should respect one another and to make use of the available opportunities to improve their lives without allowing old conflicts to highjack the future of their children. And finally, security.”
Kushner added that when implemented, the U.S. peace plan will “have a broad economic impact, not only on Israel and the Palestinians, but on the entire region as well.”
PALESTINIANS NEED A UNIFIED LEADERSHIP
The division between Hamas, which controls Gaza, and the Palestinian Authority, which controls portions of the West Bank, is another impediment to reaching a comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.
“We want to see the Palestinians united under one leadership. The Palestinians want a non-corrupt government that cares for their own interests,” Kushner said.
However, repeated efforts by the Egyptian government to unify the divided Palestinian leadership have failed. The most recent attempt, a February 11-13 meeting between PA and Hamas leaders in Moscow was so contentious that the two sides were unable to agree on a concluding declaration.
Progress has also been blocked by the decision of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to cut off all diplomatic contacts with U.S. after President Trump formally recognized Yerushalayim as the capital of Israel in December, 2017, and then moved the U.S. embassy to the city from Tel Aviv. Since that time, the Trump administration has announced deep cuts in U.S. economic and humanitarian aid to the Palestinian Authority. Stepped up pressure by the U.S. on the Palestinian Authority to halt its payments to the families of terrorists has been met by declarations of defiance from Abbas and other P.A. spokesmen.
Kushner responded to criticism from U.S. allies in the region over the secrecy that has been maintained about the details of the American peace proposal. “When we learned about previous rounds of negotiations, we discovered that many of the details came out before they were ready, which pushed the statesmen to flee from the plan,” Kushner explained.
PLAN LIKELY TO BE “DEAD ON ARRIVAL” IF INTRODUCED NOW
A number of diplomatic observers predict that both sides are likely to pronounce the Kushner-Greenblatt proposal “dead on arrival” if the U.S. pushes to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations under current conditions.
Both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority are in desperate financial straits. Living conditions and the quality of life for the residents of Gaza have continued to deteriorate, and have been only partially relieved by direct infusions of cash aid from Qatar which Israel has recently permitted.
Living conditions in Arab-controlled sections of the West Bank are much better than they are in Gaza, largely because Abbas has permitted the security cooperation between PA and Israeli security forces to continue. However, conditions could deteriorate in the West Bank when the impact of the recent reductions of direct U.S. aid to the PA, and indirect U.S. aid via UNRWA, take full effect.
Despite the impression generated in the current Israeli election campaign, finding a long term solution to the conflict with the Palestinians is not the top Israeli security concern. The Israeli military is busy preparing for the likelihood of having to fight a two front war along the northern border, against Hezbollah, operating from southern Lebanon, and against Iranian forces which are trying to entrench themselves in Syria. As long as a much more serious threat remains in the north, the Israeli government is limiting its military response to the weekly attacks Hamas is staging along the Gaza border and to the occasional missile strike and terror attack.
ISRAEL BUILDING REGIONAL TIES
The lack of progress toward a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute has not prevented Israel from continuing to strengthen its defacto alliance with other Arab states in the region against Iran. That progress was demonstrated in October with Netanyahu’s high profile visit to Oman and most recently at a Middle East security conference in Warsaw, where Netanyahu sat for press photographs with representatives of several countries in the region which are still technically in a state of war with Israel.
While Arab leaders still feel obliged to pay public lip service in support of the Palestinian cause in the media and the diplomatic arena, they are demonstrating a willingness to take a much more pragmatic approach to enhancing their security cooperation with Israel against their common enemy, Iran, enabling Netanyahu to make substantial progress in that area. Netanyahu’s quiet security outreach to Arab states dovetails nicely with the Trump administration’s efforts to build a region-wide, Saudi-led anti-Iran front, as well as the current efforts by Kushner and Greenblatt to build a consensus among the same partners about how the Israeli-Palestinian dispute should ultimately be resolved.
But building such a consensus is a long-term process. The political and security situation in the region today is still too unstable to expect Arab leaders to take the considerable risk of openly cooperating with Israel on something as difficult as reaching a mutually acceptable political settlement for the entire Israeli-Arab dispute, including the Palestinian claims.
LOOKING FOR AN ECONOMIC BUY-IN
Emily Hawthorne, a Middle East and North Africa analyst at geopolitical intelligence firm Stratfor does not believe that the region is ready for Kushner’s peace plan yet. “Politically, there is just not a lot of daylight, there’s not a lot of hope for something to happen,” Hawthorne said in a CNBC interview. “Economically is where there is some chance, and I think that that’s really the focus of Jared Kushner’s trip this week. It’s trying to get some economic buy-in from these Gulf states to try and help shore up the Palestinian economy.
“We know that Jared Kushner and others … have been working on this for two years and have really been working to try and keep any leaks from going to the press. They clearly want the stakeholders of the deal, which include the Arab Gulf states. . . to really buy into the plan so that they can make sure if the plan is going to even fly at all.”
Whether those stakeholders will support the Trump plan remains to be seen, but the details of Kushner’s proposals which have been reported so far have received harsh condemnations from Israeli and Palestinian quarters.
“It’s very difficult, any time that there is any sort of tiny little leak that comes out of the process over the last two years, we see Palestinian and Israeli sources say, ‘I don’t think this is going to work,’” Hawthorne said. That would indicate that if the plan is released just after the April 9th Israeli election, as has been reported, it is likely to receive a very hostile reception.
TRYING TO CONVINCE BOTH SIDES TO COMPROMISE
During their tour of the region this week, Kushner, Greenblatt and State Department envoy for Iran, Brian Hook, met with the leaders of the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Qatar to discuss a variety of regional issues, including their contributions to the economic portion of the American peace plan. They are asking for funding from the oil-rich Persian Gulf states to boost the Palestinian economy, in order to pave the way for a political settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. Their first stop Monday was in Abu Dhabi where they met with the Crown Prince of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan.
During his visit to Abu Dhabi, Kusher told Sky News that he realized, “We were unable to convince people from both sides to compromise. Therefore, we did not focus a lot on the issues, despite our deep knowledge of them. We focused instead on what prevents the Palestinian people from using their full potential, and what prevents the Israeli people from integrating properly in the entire region. . .
“We want to get advice from [countries in the region] on what is the best way to proceed and share with them some of the details of what we will be pursuing, especially on the economic vision for all the opportunity that exists if there is peace.”
“What we will propose is hopefully something that both sides can gain a lot more then they give and where both sides will have to make compromise, but hopefully the benefits far outweigh the compromise.”