Last week Jared Kushner, presidential adviser and son-in-law, presided over a highly unusual White House conference on the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
“And Jacob called unto his sons, and said, Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the last days.” Genesis 49:1 (KJV)
EDITOR’S NOTE: Jared Kushner has a strategy to bring about a peace deal in the Middle East that seemingly no one else over the past 70 years has thought of. He has formed a surprisingly strong alliance with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of the Saudi Kingdom, the satellite Arab nations in the Gulf region, and with Egypt as well. The power and influence this brings to bear is truly staggering. The Palestinians are struggling with Hamas and their economy, and may just be ready to make a deal. Add to that Kushner’s lifelong personal friendship with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, and you have all the fixings for a peace covenant. And the countdown to May 14th edges ever closer…exciting times.
Who participated was noteworthy: Israel was there, alongside Arab states with which it does not have diplomatic relations, such as Bahrain, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Who didn’t participate was noteworthy too: the Palestinians, who have been boycotting Trump since his announcement that the U.S. will have an embassy in Jerusalem.
The meaning of the conference can only be deciphered in relation to the Kushner-led peace effort. That long-shot effort is alive, notwithstanding Kushner’s defeat by chief of staff John Kelly in the White House palace intrigue over security clearance.
Last week’s conference embodied the success of the Kushner team’s basic strategy — and the challenge of making it work in the face of setbacks like Trump’s Jerusalem announcement. In essence, Kushner has approached the Israel-Palestine question by treating it as an adjunct to a broader regional realignment of Sunni states plus Israel against Shiite Iran.
His laser-like focus has been on Saudi Arabia, which is signaling that it’s prepared to develop warm and even official ties to Israel if only peace can be established. The basic idea is for the Saudis and other Gulf states to pressure the Palestinians to the table. Then Trump and Kushner will deliver the Israelis — or at least try.
Other negotiators in the past have sought to regionalize the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Kushner has gotten further than any of his predecessors on this front.
His strategy has been to form an extremely close relationship with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is expected to become king in the near future when his father abdicates.
This relationship is a two-way street. MBS, as the Saudi prince is invariably called outside the country, is in the process of attempting a high-risk transformation of the Saudi monarchy, from a power-sharing arrangement among siblings to centralized kingship dominated by one man. For that, MBS needs unprecedented personal backing from the White House. And Kushner and Trump have delivered exactly that. Witness their Oval Office meeting Tuesday.
Meanwhile, in return, Kushner expects MBS to play ball on an Israel-Palestine deal. So far, that’s exactly what crown prince is doing. He’s also made sure Egypt is on board, not to mention the Gulf principalities over which Saudi Arabia wields such influence.
The evidence for MBS’s cooperation has so far come primarily from Palestinian reports that President Mahmoud Abbas was told in no uncertain terms by Saudi Arabia that the time had come to take a deal.
The Gaza aid conference was a substantially more public proof of MBS’s willingness to keep up his end of the bargain. In the past, Arab states wouldn’t have been willing to attend a high-profile conference about Palestine if the Palestinians refused to show up. They certainly wouldn’t have participated in a publicized conference where the Israelis would be there and the Palestinians would not.
The whole point of the exercise was therefore to show the Palestinians that if they don’t get with the program, negotiations between Arab states and Israel could go on without them. That’s a plausible form of leverage. The Palestinians’ greatest nightmare is that Arab states might abandon them altogether and normalize relations with Israel without a peace deal. source
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