US readies to unveil Middle East peace plan

Former US officials said they were sceptical any plan could succeed due to growing hostility between Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
Tuesday 26/06/2018
White House senior adviser Jared Kushner delivers remarks on the Trump administration's approach to the Middle East. (Reuters)
White House senior adviser Jared Kushner. (Reuters)

WASHINGTON - A leading Israeli elected official said he was encouraged by reports that the Trump administration was developing a Middle East peace plan.

Yair Lapid, leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party, said that, even though no details of the plan being developed by Trump senior adviser Jared Kushner were public, it could help Israeli-Palestinian relations to have a plan on the table.

“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,” Lapid said at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think-tank. “It is always better to be proactive.”

Lapid, whose party holds 11 seats in the Knesset, 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.”

However, two former senior US government officials said they were sceptical that any peace plan could succeed because of growing hostility between Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

“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 2013-14 and was twice (1995-97 and 2000-01) US ambassador to Israel.

Indyk said he was sceptical about the idea of peace plan “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, has been travelling with Kushner to the Middle East, where the two men met with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu after visiting Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Egypt. Kushner said in an interview with the Palestinian newspaper al-Quds published that “prospects for peace are very much alive” and that the Trump administration would soon release its Palestinian-Israeli peace plan.

Kushner and Greenblatt did not meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas nor any other Palestinians, who have criticised the Trump administration's effort.

Tamara Cofman Wittes, a deputy assistant secretary of state from 2009-12 who oversaw the US State Department’s Middle East Partnership Initiative, 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.”

“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.

She said the Trump administration might release a plan that it knows one side will reject but that it will put forth nonetheless “to put something on the table because they promised they would put something on the table.”

The administration might release a detailed blueprint about how to improve the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and to spur economic development but that will have only “some vague reference to a future [peace] process.”

Kushner, who is married to Trump’s daughter Ivanka and had no prior 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 will “attract very large investments in public and private sector infrastructure to make the entire region more interdependent and stimulate future economies. This will lead to increases in gross domestic product.”

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 he was sceptical about Israeli ceding control of parts of Jerusalem.

“I’m against any sort of division of Jerusalem. It’s our capital,” Lapid said, adding, “I don’t want to comment on something I didn’t see.”

Lapid also said: “The question now is not how they’re going to draw lines on the map, it’s how to create the mechanism and dynamics of negotiating.”