Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner is meeting with leaders in Israel and the West Bank on a mission to broker a peace, yet his visit comes on the heels of a State Department spokesperson refusing to confirm if the U.S. is still committed to a two-state solution.
State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert told reporters on Wednesday that if she divulged the president’s agenda and whether he intends to seek or scrap Palestinian statehood, it would “really bias one side over the other.” After a reporter cited Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s confusion about U.S. goals and asked, “Why are you so loath to… to recommit yourself to the two-state solution?” Nauert responded:
“We are not going to state what the outcome has to be. It has to be workable to both sides. And I think, really, that’s the best view as to not really bias one side over the other, to make sure that they can work through it.”
In Jerusalem, Kushner released a warm yet vague statement after meeting with Netanyahu yesterday morning. He said that U.S.-Israel relations are “stronger than ever,” and did not elaborate on the issue of Palestinian statehood.
“The President is very committed to achieving a solution here that will be able to bring prosperity and peace to all people in this area,” Kushner said, “and we really appreciate the commitment of the Prime Minister and his team to engaging very thoughtfully and respectfully in the way that the President has asked them to do so.”
A video of Kushner and Netanyahu was posted on President Trump’s Instagram account, with the president writing a note of excitement echoing Netanyahu’s words, peace, security, and prosperity:
“Thank you Prime Minister @b.netanyahu and Jared! Lets advance #Peace, #Prosperity, and #Security in the area. There is no doubt that our relationship with you is stronger than ever! See you soon.
#USA 🇺🇸 #Israel 🇮🇱”
By contrast,relations between Trump and the Palestinians have increasingly waned.
Earlier in the week Abbas told Israeli politicians that he has met with Trump’s peace envoys 20 times since the president took office in January. And, in spite of the frequent sit-downs, Abbas was confused if the U.S. intended to back the creation of a Palestinian state and condemn Israeli settlements as counter to that aim, according to notes of a conversation between Abbas and a delegation from the left-leaning Israeli party Meretz, Haaretz reported.
Abbas reportedly spoke bluntly: “Every time they repeatedly stressed to me how much they believe and are committed to a two-state solution and a halt to construction in the settlements. I have pleaded with them to say the same thing to Netanyahu, but they refrained. They said they would consider it but then they didn’t get back to me,” he said, according to the notes.
Al-Monitor reported that in the same meeting Abbas divulged he planned to issue an “ultimatum” to Kushner yesterday. “Unless progress is made within 45 days on launching talks with the Israelis, the Palestinians will consider themselves no longer committed to the U.S. channel and will turn to an alternative plan on which they have been working for the past two years,” Al-Monitor reported he told the Israeli leader.
A likely path Abbas will seek is pursuing a United Nations Security Council resolution to end the occupation of Palestinian territory by a deadline.
Some clues about what Kushner wants out of his talk with Abbas and Netanyahu come from his itinerary in the region.
Before heading to Jerusalem, Kushner and a delegation that included special envoy on Middle East peace Jason Greenblatt and deputy national security advisor Dina Powell,stopped in Saudi Arabia. A read out from the U.S. Mission noted Israeli-Palestinian peace took place with Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman. The meeting suggests Trump seeks a regional agreement in which Saudi Arabia will offer to normalize relations with Israel in exchange for ending its occupation.
Greenblatt and Powell were also in the meeting with Kushner and Netanyahu this morning.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before his meeting with Jared Kushner, Jason Greenblatt, Dina Powell, and Amb. David Friedman. pic.twitter.com/aAkUvlxgqJ
— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) August 24, 2017
In February Trump first raised the idea of including Saudi Arabia in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations when he said he is seeking an “ultimate deal,” which was largely interpreted as a new iteration of the Arab Peace Initiative, an offer from the Arab League for diplomatic relations with Israel so long as it removes its forces from the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem. Yet in Trump’s same briefing he wavered on backing Palestinian statehood, stating he would look into other options.
If Trump is pursuing this broader path to broker an agreement, and Palestinian statehood is not on the agenda, he will likely face harsh push-back from the Arab states whose cooperation has always been conditional on the creation of a Palestinian state based on 1967 lines.
The diminishing common ground was evident in an off-the-record transcript of a talk Kushner gave interns last month in which he conceded “there may be no solution” for the conflict he is tasked with solving. Kushner then questioned what he could do that other administrations had not yet tried.
Speaking candidly, he added his “advantage” is that the parties have kept quiet on the details of the peace talks thus far. “I think you need to be able to probe people in private for them to have the confidence that it’s not going to be used against them, and that it’s not going to leak out in the press, which would be very, very hurtful,” Kushner said.
Yet some leaks have found their way into the Israeli press, before revelations over Abbas’ ultimatum were published this week.
In May, Trump met twice with Abbas, in Washington, DC, and Bethlehem. According to Israel’s Channel 2 relations soured in the weeks between the two sit-downs, culminating in Trump shouting at Abbas during the West Bank meeting, “You tricked me in DC! You talked there about your commitment to peace, but the Israelis showed me your involvement in incitement [against Israel].”