Media leaks from within the White House are nothing new; all US administrations have had to deal with them. In the case of the Trump presidency, however, the shadowy practice has risen to an alarming level. Every new leak leaves the president looking more and more like an emperor without any clothes. That is certainly the case after the leaked recording of Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, telling a group of interns that there may be “no solution” to the Palestine-Israel conflict.
Whatever happened to the “ultimate deal” that Kushner was supposed to deliver? Back in January, Trump told the Times in London that, “Jared is such a good kid and he’ll make a deal with Israel that no one else can… He’s a natural dealmaker; everyone likes him.”
Like the promise of his “big beautiful wall” along the US-Mexico border, Trump’s ultimate peace deal is also turning into an embarrassing scam. Kushner’s lack of diplomatic experience was always going to be a liability in the unpredictable politics of the Middle East. More disturbing, however, was the fact that he has been a board member of the Charles and Seryl Kushner Foundation, which funds several illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. Bet El, Efrat and Gush Etzion settlements, as well as their affiliated institutions and organisations, have been primary beneficiaries.
Similarly, US tax records show that the Donald J. Trump Foundation has itself given tens of thousands of dollars to the settlements. Where does the private ideological interest of the Trump Organisation end, and the geo-political interests of the US begin? Furthermore, was Kushner’s statement a reflection of current thinking in the State Department, or was it an expression of the dominant view within the Israeli settler movement?
Several senior ministers in the current Israeli government have, repeatedly, voiced the same sentiments. Three of the most influential – Naftali Bennett, Ayelet Shaked and Ofir Akunis – don’t believe that peace with the Palestinians is possible; hence, they vow to prevent the establishment of an independent State of Palestine in the territories occupied in 1967 with Jerusalem as its capital.
Like Kushner, Minister of Justice Shaked believes that the gaps between the Palestinians and Israelis are too wide and that the US administration should, in her view, start “thinking outside the box about other solutions.” Instead of a Palestinian state, she suggests, “You can give, as they say, an ‘economic peace on steroids’ to the Palestinians, build industrial zones there, improve their quality of life.”
Days before Trump visited Israel in May, Shaked told the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, “The message that Netanyahu has to convey to Trump is that there is no chance for a Palestinian state, at the moment.”
This is the background to Kushner’s remark to the interns. Unlike previous US envoys, he didn’t even bother to make an effort to explore possible peace deals, nor did he pretend that he was doing so. He has simply caved-in to pressure from Israeli extremists and, in doing so, has dashed the hope of his father-in-law for the “ultimate deal”.
Although the settlers were foremost in shaping the presidential advisor’s thinking, the situation within the Palestine Liberation Organisation and Palestinian Authority was also a factor. Increasingly, President Mahmoud Abbas’s health has become a matter of concern. There is even speculation that he may actually step down as the head of both bodies in the near future. Whatever happens, though, no one believes that his successor will be able to broker a “lasting peace”; there will never be another Palestinian leader as committed to the “peace process” as Abbas. The Israelis know this more than anybody.
The reaction from the Ramallah-based PA to Kushner’s comment explains why the authority is stuck in a rut. Minister of Foreign Affairs Riyadh Al-Maliki said that the statement reflected the complexity and difficulty of the situation on the ground. The PLO/PA, he added, is awaiting “more effort from the American administration to form ideas that address these complexities, especially those relating to Israeli intransigence.”
Given the extent to which the Trump administration is embedded within Israel’s illegal settler movement, Maliki will have to wait forever for new ideas. Has the Ramallah leadership forgotten Trump’s reply when asked what he thought about a two-state solution? “I’m looking at two-state and one-state and I like the one that both parties like. I’m very happy with the one that both parties like.” In practice, that will mean whatever the Israelis “like”.
The Kushner leak and the imminent departure of Mahmud Abbas must be taken as opportunities to start the process of rebuilding the Palestinian national movement. This may be the time to bring about genuine reconciliation and chart a new political course based on equal participation and representation. Of course, it will not be to the liking of Israel or the US, neither of which would ever welcome another free and fair election in Palestine if there is the slightest possibility of another Hamas victory, as happened in 2006. Nevertheless, the Palestinians have an opportunity to create a way out of the present shambles. They should take it, and quickly.