Last week the world was exposed to some of the Trump administration’s internal thinking with regard to the way it views the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A recording of a briefing Jared Kushner gave White House interns made its way to Wired Magazine, which then shared it with the world.
In it, Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, gave a sober review of the last 40 years of Middle East peacemaking and the chances that a deal can be reached to end the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in the near future.
“What do we offer that’s unique? I don’t know,” said Kushner. “I’m sure everyone that’s tried this has been unique in some ways, but again we’re trying to follow very logically. We’re thinking about what the right endstate is. And we’re trying to work with the parties very quietly to see if there’s a solution.”
He continued: “There may be no solution, but it’s one of the problem sets that the president asked us to focus on,” he added. “So, we’re going to focus on it and try to come to the right conclusion in the near future.”
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. Its thinking seems to be no different than that of previous administrations: Push for negotiations between the parties, mediate between them and try to hammer out an agreement.
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 made his remarks before news broke in Israel that Ari Harow, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s former chief of staff, had turned state’s witness and is going to provide the police with key evidence in two investigations being conducted of the prime minister.
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.
If this is the case, what can be done? Now would be a good time to invest in grassroot initiatives aimed at improving the quality of life for all residents of the West Bank, Israeli and Palestinian. This could include several major undertakings: improving infrastructure like roads and electricity plans, building more industrial zones to create employment, setting up hi-tech incubators for Palestinians and Israelis and improving the import-export process for Palestinian businesses seeking to expand their reach overseas.
Israel is often referred to as the Start-Up Nation. There is no reason it should not be working to share its culture of innovation with its Palestinian neighbors and help to advance them in a more positive direction.
All of these initiatives can be carried out without connection to the top-down approach needed to reach a political resolution to the conflict. They are not affected by politics or dependent on the lack of leadership in Jerusalem or Ramallah.
These are measures that will create a better atmosphere for peace and will be conducive to later attempts at reaching a long-term, final-status agreement when and if the political conditions make that possible.
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.