Kushner in Israel as US peace plan faces new political hurdle

Trump adviser Jared Kushner visits Israel to discuss Israel-Palestine peace plan with PM Benjamin Netanyahu.

Kushner speaks with guests after U.S. President Trump discussed U.S. immigration policy at the White House in Washington
Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner is in Israel ahead of the Bahrain conference [File: Joshua Roberts/Reuters]

US President Donald Trump‘s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on the final leg of a regional tour to boost support for a US-led economic conference in Bahrain, where the first part of the long-anticipated Israel-Palestine peace plan is due be unveiled.

Kushner had been preparing the plan for months and said he was waiting for Israel’s April election and also the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, but Israel on Thursday scheduled a new election for September after Netanyahu failed to form a coalition government.

The US State Department said the the Bahrain conference would go ahead, despite Israel’s snap election.

“We are not anticipating any changes. It’s set for June 25 and 26,” State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus told reporters on Thursday.

The economic “workshop” will not cover the political aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but instead will focus on increasing investment from Washington’s regional allies in the occupied Palestinian territories.

The Palestinian leadership, which has criticised the peace proposal, was not consulted about the Manama conference, which is not expected to address the core political issues of the conflict: final borders, the status of Jerusalem, or the fate of Palestinian refugees.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said last week that “any solution to the conflict in Palestine must be political … and based on ending the occupation.”

Al Jazeera correspondent Harry Fawcett, reporting from West Jerusalem, said that the uncertainty in Israeli politics has “certainly complicated things”.

“He [Kushner] may have expected to come here to speak to Netanyahu on the day that he’d confirmed his government but now, of course, that isn’t the case,” he said.

‘Keep working together’

Netanyahu sought to play down the setback, referring only to “a little event last night” during brief joint remarks with Kushner.

“That’s not going to stop us – we’re going to keep working together,” he said.

“I’m tremendously encouraged by how the United States, under President Trump, is working to bring allies together in this region against common challenges, but also to seize common opportunities.”

Kushner also made no direct mention of the plan, saying Israel’s security was critical to Washington and they were “very excited about the potential that lies ahead for Israel, for the relationship”.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday after meeting Kushner, Netanyahu brandished an official US State Department map that had been altered to incorporate the occupied Golan Heights as part of Israel.

Benjamin Netanyahu Golan Heights map
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shows a map from US President Donald Trump [Ariel Schalit/AP Photo]

“This map has not been update since the Six Day War,” said Netanyahu, a reference to the June 1967 Middle East war in which Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria, later annexing the territory in a move not recognised internationally.

“Well it has been updated, it just got an update … That is to say, there are very important developments here.”

Pointing to a note written on the map, which he called Trump’s handiwork, he said: “Here is the signature of Trump, and he writes ‘nice’. I say, ‘very nice!'”

Cut off relations with the US

The Palestinian Authority (PA), which governs the occupied West Bank, cut off relations with the United States last year, accusing it of having a thoroughly biased relationship with Israel.

“The Palestinian Authority will be at risk of a breakdown because the tax revenues that are usually withheld by Israel were supposed to be released to the PA after the formation of the new Israeli government,” political analyst Hani al-Masri said.

Kushner’s latest visit is an attempt to salvage the Manama summit, especially after a “general consensus from the Palestinian side – the government, civil society, and private sector – who expressed their rejection and non-participation,” he added.

Along with Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt, Kushner visited Morocco on Tuesday and Jordan on Wednesday in order to secure the two countries’ backing and participation in the Bahrain summit.

Two-state solution

Morocco and Jordan, however, fell short of stating whether they will attend. The Jordanian Royal Court issued a statement after the delegation meeting, in which King Abdullah “stressed the need to step up all efforts to achieve comprehensive and lasting peace on the basis of the two-state solution”.

The two-state solution, based on United Nations resolutions, calls for an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel on the 1967 borders, with occupied East Jerusalem as its capital.

But Kushner hinted that the plan will not propose two states for Israelis and Palestinians – for decades the US-backed goal in peace talks.

The Bahrain gathering is expected to bring together leaders from several governments, civil society and the business sector.

The only Arab states to confirm their presence for the Manama conference, which is scheduled for June 25-26, are Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

Al Jazeera’s Harry Fawcett said that “the US administration had already put off the plan, the political part of the plan, in accordance with the unexpectedly early Israeli elections called in April. Will they have to do that again?”

“If they do, then we start getting into the US election season ahead of the 2020 election.

“In any case, Saeb Erekat, the chief negotiator for the Palestinians, is saying the deal of the century now looks like it might be the deal of next century,” he said.

Source: Al Jazeera