What is behind Jared Kushner's latest Middle East tour?

The Trump administration is struggling to secure political support for the 'ultimate deal'.

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    President Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner met with Jordan's King Abdullah II on June 19 to discuss the peace process between Israel and Palestine [Reuters]
    President Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner met with Jordan's King Abdullah II on June 19 to discuss the peace process between Israel and Palestine [Reuters]

    US President Donald Trump's Middle East team has been visiting the region frequently, and the administration purports to be one step closer to announcing the details of its peace plan, also known as "the ultimate deal", after each visit.

    Last week Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and top aide who was tasked last year with reviving the stalled peace process, and Middle East Envoy Jason Greenblatt embarked on yet another Middle East tour, visiting countries including Jordan, Egypt, Qatar, Israel, and Saudi Arabia.

    While the US administration continuously acts as if the big reveal is just around the corner, what these frequent visits really indicate is that the Trump team has not been able to gain the support it needs to announce its plan just yet.

    Kushner and Greenblatt's latest visit also aimed at securing political and financial support for the peace plan. However, it seems the visit has also not been successful, as no deal was announced and the US administration continues to increase pressure on those opposing the deal, particularly Jordan and the Palestinian Authority (PA).

    Jordan and the PA have fiercely rejected the deal since the beginning of negotiations, and - it appears - for good reason.

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    According to several leaks, Trump's "ultimate deal" would include recognising Jerusalem as the united capital of Israel, no removal of Israeli settlements from the West Bank, and no return of the Palestinian refugees to their land.

    In addition, the deal allegedly foresees Israel retaining control of the Jordan valley and the borders with Jordan. What the Palestinians get is financial support for development projects in Gaza, especially in energy, to alleviate the humanitarian crisis there. 

    For the PA the deal is a non-starter. In the recent history of Palestine, there has never been a president more open to peace negotiations than Mahmoud Abbas. But despite his record of political pragmatism, Abbas not only utterly rejected the plan, but also "fired" the mediator.

    When Trump announced its decision to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and recognised it as Israel's capital, Abbas said the Trump administration was no longer accepted as a mediator in the conflict with Israel. Consequently, the PA cut all diplomatic ties with the White House and withdrew its ambassador from Washington

    Palestinians are probably the weakest of the players in terms of military might, but the deal is unlikely to succeed without their approval. They may not have military power, but they are the only ones who can make the deal legitimate. The Trump administration is well aware of this fact, and this is why they are pressuring, and at times threatening, the PA leadership to accept their positions.

    Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the PLO committee, recently acknowledged these pressures, and said Kushner and Greenblatt are trying to topple the Palestinian leadership.

    In an interview for al-Quds newspaper, Kushner said that if Abbas is not willing to negotiate, they would proceed with the deal anyway. 

    King Abdullah of Jordan, too, seems to have received his own share of American-Israeli pressure to "legitimise" the deal. During Kushner's visit to Amman, Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, also met with the king to address Jordan's concerns over the implementation of the deal. In particular, Netanyahu wanted to assure King Abdullah that the Hashemite custodianship of Jerusalem's holy sites would continue under the deal.

    Israel sometimes tries to put Amman in a vulnerable position by hinting that the Jordanian royal family's custodianship could be transferred to their newly emerging ally, Saudi Arabia. In fact, Isaac Herzog, a Knesset member and the former leader of Israel's Labour party, suggested in an interview with Saudi-funded Elaph news website: "When we reach the stage [during negotiations] of talking about Jerusalem and the holy sites, such as Al-Aqsa [Mosque], I think there must be a Saudi role and responsibility for the holy sites."

    Furthermore, Jordan recently experienced economically motivated protests over IMF-backed price increases and a new tax reform law. With an aid-dependent economy, Jordan is in serious need of financial support. The US and Israel can exploit this need in order to secure Amman's support for the deal.

    Nevertheless, it does not seem King Abdullah buckled under US-Israeli pressures just yet. For this reason, it has been announced that King Abdullah will be visiting Washington on Monday to discuss with Trump various matters including, "working towards a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians".

    No official statements have been made on whether Trump's team has been able to secure any financial support from Gulf states during their visit, but this task is not as complicated as securing the necessary political support needed for the deal to be announced.

    Saudi Arabia has repeatedly announced its support of Trump's efforts and it can be assumed that Riyadh will not hesitate to put its considerable resources behind the deal when the time comes. Furthermore, since the financial support is going to be invested in development projects in Gaza, the Saudi leadership is likely to be on board which sends a message to its own domestic constituency that it is not "selling out" on the Palestinian cause. 

    While it is likely that Trump's team will get promises of financial support for the deal in the near future, securing political support especially from the PA and Jordan remains a far trickier task.

    Even toppling the current Palestinian leadership would not solve the Trump administration's problems, as it will undoubtedly result in a significantly more radical leader than Abbas taking over. Most PLO and PA institutions have already demanded from Abbas to take a series of escalatory steps like freezing recognition of Israel and ending security coordination with Israel.

    Convincing Jordan is not going to be any easier either. The hands of its political leadership are tied because the Jordanian society itself firmly rejects the deal - something unlikely to change no matter what incentives and/or threats the White House uses.

    The will of the Jordanian people, who successfully toppled their government by taking to the streets earlier this month, is something Amman cannot afford to ignore when taking positions regarding Jerusalem and the Palestinian issue.

    In this sense, it seems more likely than ever that the ultimate deal will ultimately fail. Unfortunately, until this happens, it will cause enough damage to seriously hinder the possibility of a legitimate peace deal being made in the future.

    The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial stance.


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