US Middle East peace plan draws mixed reactions

The Trump administration might release a plan that it knows one side will reject but which it would put forth nonetheless “to put something on the table.”
Sunday 01/07/2018
Long wait. Copies of the Palestinian newspaper Al-Quds that published an interview with US President Donald Trump’s senior adviser Jared Kushner on display for sale in Ramallah, on June 24. (Reuters)
Long wait. Copies of the Palestinian newspaper Al-Quds that published an interview with US President Donald Trump’s senior adviser Jared Kushner on display for sale in Ramallah, on June 24. (Reuters)

WASHINGTON - The US effort to draft a Middle East peace plan without talking to Palestinian leaders is drawing mixed reactions, with some officials saying it is a good start and others calling the effort unrealistic and potentially harmful.

The reaction came in response to statements by Jared Kushner, a senior adviser to US President Donald Trump, that the White House was planning to release a Palestinian-Israeli peace plan. Kushner had met with Middle East leaders but not Palestinian ones, whom Washington alienated by moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

“It’s better than the alternative because there has been no peace plan. Nobody was using the words ‘peace plan’ for quite a while now,” Yair Lapid, leader of Israel’s centrist Yesh Atid party said June 25 at the Brookings Institution. “It is always better to be proactive.”

Lapid said the “attrition of relations between Israelis and Palestinians is the result of not doing anything on the peace process front.” Recalling his own failed effort in peace talks in 2014, Lapid said: “Maybe a new or renewed point of view is the right thing to do.”

Two former senior US government officials said they were sceptical that any peace plan could succeed because of the hostility between Israeli and Palestinian leaders and an Israeli analyst said the effort could worsen conditions.

“It’s easy to come up with a plan. The question is whether it can get the parties back into a negotiated effort to solve the problems,” said Martin Indyk, who was the US special envoy for Palestinian-Israeli negotiations in 2013 and 2014 and the US ambassador to Israel in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Indyk said he was sceptical “not because of the good intentions of Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt but because the conditions are not ripe for resolving this conflict. There’s too much distrust between the parties. You can’t get there from here.”

Greenblatt, the Trump administration’s top international negotiator, and Kushner met with leaders of Israel, Qatar, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan in late June. Kushner and Greenblatt talked of “ways to provide humanitarian relief to Palestinians in Gaza” and Washington’s “efforts to facilitate peace between the Israelis and Palestinians,” White House statements said.

Kushner elaborated in an interview with the Palestinian newspaper Al-Quds published on June 24 that “prospects for peace are very much alive” and that the Trump administration would “soon” release its plan for Palestinian-Israeli peace.

Senior officials in the four Arab countries told Kushner and Greenblatt they would not block a White House peace plan developed without Palestinian input, Israel Hayom newspaper reported. The newspaper said the Arab leaders had tried to get Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to meet with the Americans and were annoyed that he refused.

Asked how the Trump administration would achieve peace without Abbas’s participation, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said: “We’re going to continue meeting with the other partners in the region… We had productive meetings over the last week.”

Tamara Cofman Wittes, a deputy assistant secretary of state from 2009-12 who oversaw the US State Department’s Middle East Partnership Initiative, said the discord between the United States and Palestinian officials makes any peace plan unlikely.

“We have a Trump administration that is upset with the Palestinian leadership… and you have a Palestinian leadership that is refusing to talk to the American administration so it’s hard for me to see in that context how we get much progress,” Wittes said.

“It’s very difficult to imagine that they’ll be able to release a proposal with a lot of detail in it about the core final status issues — borders, Jerusalem, refugee settlements — that won’t be too hard for one side if not both sides to swallow.”

The Trump administration might release a plan that it knows one side will reject but which it would put forth nonetheless “to put something on the table because they promised they would put something on the table,” she said, adding that the administration might release a plan focusing on the humanitarian crisis with only “some vague reference to a future [peace] process.”

Kushner, who is married to Trump’s daughter Ivanka and had no previous diplomatic experience, told Al-Quds that “the actual deal points are between Israelis and Palestinians but the economic plan we are working on can show what comes as part of a deal when it is achieved with some huge investments that extend to the Jordanian and Egyptian people as well.”

Kushner said he has been working on an economic plan that would “attract very large investments in public and private sector infrastructure to make the entire region more interdependent and stimulate future economies.”

Yossi Alpher, an Israeli analyst and former intelligence officer, wrote in the Forward, a Jewish American newspaper, that the plan would create “an Islamist emirate in Gaza propped up economically by Egypt.” Such a plan “won’t work,” Alpher said, “and when the new ‘deal’ doesn’t work, matters will get worse for both Israel and the Palestinians.”

More controversially, Kushner said Arab leaders he met with “made it clear that they want to see a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.”

Lapid said: “I’m against any sort of division of Jerusalem. It’s our capital.”

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