Jared Kushner keeps guzzling jet fuel

It is hard to imagine a group of characters less likely to forge a peace deal between two peoples who have been in intense, existential conflict for more than 70 years.

Mission impossible. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, centre right, meets with US presidential adviser Jared Kushner in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on August 24. (Palestinian President Office)

2017/08/27 Issue: 121 Page: 7

The Arab Weekly
Mark Habeeb

Jared Kushner has made another quick tour of the Middle East with the goal of launching renewed peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law was joined by Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s special representative for international negotiations; and the US Deputy National Security Adviser Dina Habib Powell, who was born in Cairo to Coptic Egyptian parents and speaks fluent Arabic. She also served in the White House and the State Department under former President George W. Bush.

Kushner met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas — their meeting was described as “pro­ductive” by a Palestinian spokes­man — and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu — their meeting was described as “effec­tive” by an Israeli spokesman.

While they were in the neigh­bourhood, Kushner and his team also met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on the same day that news broke of an impend­ing US aid cut to Egypt, as well as with Jordan’s King Abdullah II and leaders in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, with Israeli-Palestinian peace at the top of every agenda.

Amid the flurry of activity, I have one pointed question for America’s most powerful son-in-law: Who do you think you are fooling? The odds of an Israeli- Palestinian peace breakthrough are as close to zero as odds can get.

Consider the situations of the main decision-makers: Abbas is unpopular, politically isolated, at odds with Hamas and, at age 82, ailing. The jockeying for who will replace him is well under way. Netanyahu is the latest in a long line of Israeli politicians to face possible indictment over corrup­tion. Neither leader is in any position to make a bold or coura­geous move towards peace. In fact, to salvage his political hide, Netanyahu has embraced Israel’s extremist right-wing fringe.

Trump is facing historically low popularity ratings — fewer than four out of ten Americans say they approve of his job as president — and a criminal investigation of his own related to accusations that his campaign colluded with Russia to interfere in the 2016 US elections.

Add to these problems the fact that Trump does not have the focus or depth of knowledge necessary to bargain with such wily survivors as Netanyahu and Abbas. It is almost laughable to imagine Trump in the role of Jimmy Carter at Camp David, shuttling in a golf cart between the cottages of Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat to hammer out the details of peace. (It is, however, easy to imagine Trump in a golf cart.)

The 36-year-old Kushner has less political experience than a county commissioner and no previous diplomatic experience. He also is facing a criminal investigation related to his real estate company’s business dealings.

It is hard to imagine a group of characters less likely to forge a peace deal between two peoples who have been in intense, existen­tial conflict for more than 70 years.

I suspect that Abbas, Netanyahu and other regional leaders have made the same assessment but have their reasons for playing along. For Netanyahu, the ruse allows him to continue doing what he has aimed to do all along — col­onise the entire West Bank and destroy Palestinian political and cultural institutions. For Abbas, it keeps him in the spotlight as the Palestinians’ president, plus, it’s not wise to disrespect the son-in-law of a volatile and unpredictable man such as Trump.

As for other Arab leaders, they each have their own agendas with and needs from the United States, so why not serve Kushner tea and a photo op to keep Washington happy?

The depressing bottom line is that no matter who the players are, the story always ends the same: Israel wins, Palestinians lose and other Arab leaders take care of their real interests. Meanwhile, Kushner keeps guzzling jet fuel.

Mark Habeeb is East-West editor of The Arab Weekly and adjunct professor of Global Politics and Security at Georgetown University in Washington.

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