In early May Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and the lead architect of the so-called "deal of the century" gave a lengthy interview to Robert Satloff, the executive director of the pro-Israeli Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP). In it he expressed disappointment with the Palestinians. "It's been very disheartening for us," Kushner told Satloff, "to see that the Palestinian leadership has basically been attacking a plan that they don't know what it is as opposed to reaching out to us."
"Poor Jared," one is tempted to say, "all that hard effort and so little gratitude!" So what that his father-in-law recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, shuttered the PLO mission in Washington, cut off all US funding to the Palestinians, waved through the Israeli annexation of the Golan and kept Jordanian King Abdullah – whose country is home to two million Palestinian refugees – completely in the dark. So what that Kushner, a New York real estate broker whose family supports illegal settlements has two advisors, Jason Greenblatt and David Friedman, who themselves are keen settlement advocates. The former has said that the settlements are not illegal. The latter is the US ambassador to Israel and in that capacity has deemed the settlements already part of Israel. This is the trio that we are asked to believe will come up with a fair and balanced plan. And the Palestinians? They haven't reached out, shame on the Palestinians.
The interview Kushner gave is full of empty platitudes and slippery evasions. He boasts "nothing's leaked from my team…and I think that is something that we're very proud of." Perhaps nothing has leaked because there is nothing of substance to leak. The deal such as it is seems to promise a bright economic future for the Palestinians if they just get on board and trust in Jared.
The latest gambit in trying to manoeuvre the Palestinians into a corner is a conference in the Bahraini capital Manama that is set for 25-26 June. According to a White House statement released 19 May, the conference will provide a "framework for a prosperous future for the Palestinian people and the region, including enhancements to economic governance, development of human capital, and facilitation of rapid private-sector growth."
The statement adds: "This is a pivotal opportunity to convene government, civil society, and business leaders to share ideas, discuss strategies, and galvanize support for potential economic investments and initiatives that could be made possible by a peace agreement."
Cart before horse comes immediately to mind. There can be no economic deal without first a political deal; that is a broad and widely shared consensus. But Kushner, a young man with no previous experience in the Middle East, disagrees. "Look," he told Satloff, "we don't want to go through history on this."
One of his most disingenuous comments in the interview was when he was asked about a two-state solution "[it] means one thing to Israelis, [and another] thing to the Palestinians, so we said, let's just not say it". Think about that for a moment, a central tenet of achieving a fair and equitable deal is not going to be mentioned.
In fact just about the only thing that emerges between the lines in 45 minutes of weaving, bobbing and preening was that Kushner and his sidekicks Friedman and Greenblatt want to secure Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's long held goal of burying the two-state solution forever while facilitating the annexation of the illegal West Bank settlements into Israel.
The Palestinian Authority has said, quite rightly, it will not be going to Manama. Nor will Palestinian business people. Israel's new friends the Saudis and the Emiratis will be there to make promises that they will stump up the cash that is intended to cause the Palestinians to cave in. In that regard Dan Shapiro, a former American ambassador to Israel, warns: "What makes it very difficult to see the conference being successful is that the US has cancelled all donor assistance to the Palestinians, so it's asking others to invest where it has chosen to divest."
We have been here before with the Trump presidency. A grand gathering is called, replete with overblown rhetoric and assumptions that intractable problems that have existed for decades will be resolved in a couple of days. Remember the Warsaw conference in February? That was intended to pull together the nations of the world in a great coalition that would stand up to Iran. The Americans blustered and fulminated, Netanyahu blundered badly by tweeting about preparing for war and anybody with any sense stayed away. The conference was an enormous flop and, unsurprisingly, Trump never mentions it even as he continues to ratchet up the pressure on Iran.
Already the Manama gathering has the unmistakeable stench of failure hovering over it. When it ends, the strategy such as it is will be to claim that the Palestinians, ungrateful wretches, rejected a generous offer. Kushner tried, the Palestinians failed. It is so nakedly transparent that even some of Israel's most trenchant supporters are wincing.
Robert Satloff in a follow up article to his interview aptly titled "Jared Kushner's peace plan would be a disaster", begs Kushner and Netanyahu not to proceed: "I hope Bibi…uses whatever tools at his disposal to abort the Kushner plan" and he concludes the article with this: "For Israel and its friends the key point remains: the only way to protect the long-term viability of the best aspects of the plan is to kill the plan."
Sadly Jared Kushner does not appear to be listening. He told Satloff: "When you work for your father-in-law you can't disappoint." And so it is onwards to Manama, expert analysts, Middle East old hands and diplomats, even good friends and staunch allies be damned. Jared has got the deal of the century sorted.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.