Kushner Pessimistic on Middle East Peace as Netanyahu Faces Investigation

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Views from the Region

August 11, 2017

Jared Kushner, the son-in-law of Donald Trump and a special advisor to the president on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, has come under scrutiny for leaked comments made to a group of congressional interns. According to various reports, Mr. Kushner expressed pessimism about the peace process, indicating that “there may be no solution” that is acceptable to all parties. For many in the region, Mr. Kushner’s comments also displayed a clear bias in favor of Israel. Added to the deepening investigation into Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s finances that could threaten his government’s stability, some observers have wondered whether any progress is even possible, let alone imminent.


According to Haaretz’s Amir Tibon, Mr. Kushner’s leaked comments were damning in part because they focused so much on Israel’s side of the story, without contextualizing the actions or the grievances of the Palestinians: “Kushner called Israel’s decision to put metal detectors on Temple Mount ‘reasonable,’ blamed the Palestinians for incitement, and described the incident in which two Jordanian citizens were killed by an Israeli security guard in the Israeli embassy in Amman, in a way that completely contradicts Jordan’s official account of the event, which is currently under investigation by the Israeli police…. In recent days the Palestinian Authority has criticized the Trump peace effort for being one-sided and tilted towards Israel. Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, slammed the Trump administration on Tuesday. Kushner’s leaked lecture probably won’t help in that regard. For example, Kushner mentions in the leaked transcript the five Israelis — two police officers on Temple Mount and a civilian family in the settlement of Halamish — who were killed in terror attacks during the violent outbreak, but doesn’t refer at all to Palestinian casualties.”

Reactions to Mr. Kushner’s comments to congressional interns have been especially critical among observers in the Arab press, with Gulf News’s Mustapha Karkouti deeming the remarks as grounds for dismissing Mr. Kushner from the Arab-Israeli peace process: “Being a son-in-law is not a qualification, even if you are the son-in-law of the leader of the strongest country in the world. This does not qualify you to become an expert, let alone a negotiator, on the Middle East. That seems to be the case of Jared Kushner, the son-in-law of U.S. President Donald Trump, and his envoy to the Middle East…. If the man who was appointed by the most powerful leader in the world for a specific mission seems, merely six months after his appointment, to have given up his responsibilities, why bother charging him with such a significant job in the first place. What Kushner has effectively done is ‘disqualifying himself’ from overseeing the U.S. Middle East peace policy…. Kushner is clearly not fit to be a mediator in any peace-making efforts. With his little experience in politics, and his Zionist narrative, Kushner cannot be expected to know anything better. President Trump will do the Middle East a huge favor by recalling his son-in-law from this mission.”

Much of the discomfort about Mr. Kushner comes from the fact that many see him as too closely associated with Israeli interests. A recent analysis of the leaked comments by the Palestinian website Ma’an News characterizes Kushner as a “staunch supporter” of Israel: “Trump has repeatedly said peace between Israelis and Palestinians was something he could achieve as president. ‘I want to see peace with Israel and the Palestinians,’ Trump said in April. ‘There is no reason there’s not peace between Israel and the Palestinians — none whatsoever.’ While Trump has maintained on many occasions that, under his auspices, the decades-long Palestinian-Israeli conflict will be solved, his administration has painted a rather unclear picture regarding Trump’s plans in the region, while a number of high-profile U.S. officials, including Kushner, are known to be staunch supporters of Israel.”

Writing for the Jerusalem Post, Neville Teller has a different take on Mr. Kushner’s remarks. Teller suggests that Kushner’s mistake is not in his analysis of the problems, but rather his underestimation of the role of history in the conflict: “But the would-be peacemaker who ignores history gets buried by it. History is at the very heart of the problem he faces. If there is ever to be a deal, it cannot possibly be achieved without an in-depth understanding of the history of the Holy Land, because both the Jewish People’s claim to the land, and the refutation of that claim in the Palestinian narrative, are rooted in past events…. An inescapable aspect of historical events is that they have no real beginning. Depending on the starting point selected, the rights and wrongs of each party’s position in a political dispute can look very different…. If a deal acceptable to both sides is ever to be achieved, attempts to reconcile wildly varying interpretations of historical events would have to be put aside — a delicate task in itself…. Perhaps the moment is not far off when Jared Kushner, having laid as much groundwork as he can, ought to hand the lead over to his father-in- law.”

In another Jerusalem Post editorial, Yaakov Katz congratulates Mr. Kushner for his honesty, but urges the Palestinians and the Israelis to find a way forward despite the challenges that lie ahead: “There were three big takeaways from Kushner’s remarks. The first was that, seven months after taking office, the Trump administration does not yet have any new ideas for how to advance the peace process…. The second takeaway is that there seems to be a growing assessment within the White House that a deal might not even be possible. The third is just as interesting and has to do with the motivation for why Kushner and Deputy Assistant to the President Jason Greenblatt are even working on a deal to begin with. The president, Kushner revealed, had asked them…. Kushner should be applauded for his honesty. He articulated what a lot of people already believe regarding the chances for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. But that doesn’t mean that he or the administration should give up. Moreover, it doesn’t mean that Israelis and Palestinians should give up. A lot can still be achieved.”

Mr. Katz’s comments are important because they also touch on recent developments in Israel, where investigations into Prime Minister Netanyahu’s actions as finance minister from 2003-05 could lead to the toppling of his government: “This is relevant, since from now forward, any step Netanyahu takes will need to be looked at through the prism of the investigations of his conduct. If he breaks Left — like Ehud Olmert and Ariel Sharon respectively did as prime ministers under investigation — he will be perceived as doing so to save himself from indictment. If he turns further Right — as it seems he will — it will be seen as an attempt to shore up his support among right-wing voters ahead of elections. What this means is that real progress will likely not be made in the near future. The criminal cloud over Netanyahu’s head will prevent him from taking any real steps toward peace, which Kushner anyhow doesn’t appear to have much faith in the chances of achieving.”

The Israeli prime minister has received support from some of his most ardent supporters, including Israel Hayon’s Amnon Lord, who believes that Mr. Netanyahu is being singled out because of the strength of his convictions rather than any criminal behavior on his part: “The so-called ‘Bibitours’ affair — the alleged double-billing scheme in the airfare and accommodation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his family overseas when he was finance minister in 2003-2005 — is a classic example of the regular efforts to neutralize Netanyahu…. That is why Netanyahu’s voters have no regrets and may even support him more forcefully now. Not only that, it appears he is growing stronger. The police and the State Attorney’s Office are faced with a problem, because people view his actions favorably. There is still also an open question as to the motives behind the various investigations against him…. Unlike Barak, Olmert and Sharon, Netanyahu has not buckled under the pressure. He has kept his integrity and stuck to his guns on the economy, his policies and his overall strategy, and it appears that he has served Israel well over the past eight years. The proof: People want to take him down.”

In an op-ed for Yedioth Ahronoth, Ben-Dror Yemini paints a less flattering picture of Mr. Netanyahu, but lauds his instincts as a politician: “Regardless of our political opinion, the things being published about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should hurt us on the national level. Because in the State of Israel, barely one percent of the citizens—a handful—are interrogated by the police. And in that same Israel, for the past two decades, all prime ministers have been questioned by the police as suspects as part of criminal investigations…. Netanyahu has always been a hedonist, but his appetite grew. He was called ‘Bibi the King of Israel’ and ‘the magician’, and he believed it. And so, the first Netanyahu turned into the second Netanyahu. Time and again, the personal interest came before the national interest…. Netanyahu’s decline is a blow to Israel. There’s a different Netanyahu too. But the moment the first Netanyahu was replaced by the second Netanyahu, he both harmed Israel and became the architect of his own downfall.”

Jordan Times’s Hassan Barari, on the other hand, believes that even should Mr. Netanyahu exit the political stage, there is little hope that it will lead to any meaningful change in terms of the peace process: “Explicit in Israel is the fact that any peace process that entails any territorial concession, particularly in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, is a hotly debated and divisive topic. Over the course of three decades, no single prime minister successfully and genuinely pushed for peace and survived politically, and physically in the case of Rabin. This begs the following question: Why would the departure of Netanyahu pave the path to peace?… For a change to take place, Israel needs more than changing the prime minister. According to Gideon Levy, Israeli needs a revolution…. Certainly, the Palestinians are monitoring the situation in Israel to see how they can capitalize on the developments. While this is important, they need to get their act together and present a united front behind an agreed upon strategic objective. Short of doing that, Palestinians will remain at the receiving end and will lose the ability to take the initiative.”

Despite the pessimism expressed in various dailies and news outlets, Yaniv Sagee, director of the Center for a Shared Society at Givat Haviva, argues in a recent op-ed for Yedioth Ahronoth that there is much that can be done by both sides to build trust and move forward: “If we blindly follow the voices of fear and hate coming from both of the nationalities that share this land, our lives will become hell on earth. This is the security and social nightmare incarnate…. In the short term, two things must be done. The first is to isolate the extremists from the two societies, Jewish and Arab, and not to allow them to use fear to advance the agenda of hatred, which works against the common interest. The second thing is to actually increase the friction [contact points] between the two nationalities…. In the long run, we need to change the way we act as a country, through education for coexistence, minority participation in government apparatus, equitable allocation of land and resources, acquisition of each other’s national language and the creation of networks of community and municipal partnerships.”


  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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