Terry Schwadron

Jun 13, 2019

5 min read

Kushner Mideast Plan: DOA

Terry H. Schwadron

June 13, 2019

Can we agree: Any peace plan still being promised by Donald Trump as delivered by first son-in-law Jared Kushner is doomed even before it gets a public hearing.

Through a combination of factors, several at Trump’s own hand, have condemned any attempt on his part to win the elusive prize of Middle East peace that he once may have believed he was capable of delivering.

Kushner has spent a lot of the two-plus years of the Trump term working behind the scenes to come up with a fresh approach to overcoming a fractured Middle East that not only keeps itself roiling, but exports plenty of unrest around the world. From all the reporting that has been done, basically, Kushner wants to offer economic incentives — in the major billions or more of investment — in return for a generic respect for regional peace.

The hell with a separate nation for Palestinians, in effect, or further occupation by a growingly restive Israel, or the advancement of Saudi interests over, say, those of the Qataris, who have been quarrelling with Saudi Arabia, or the Iranis, everyone’s agreed-upon bad boy these days in the Arab world. The hell with thousands of years of traditional relationships and the last 100 years of specific warsand competition for the same land, let’s all chill and make some real money.

It’s the perfect Real Estate way to end conflict without ending conflict, it is one-sided for Israel and it is inadequate as a solution for the problem.

That said, the recent regional doings are destroying any hopes for the plan before it is presented as a plan. Let’s look at some of the contributors to a blistered landscape:

· Timing. Israel is moving more politically rightist — and stalling over personalities. The failure of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form a government even with the most right-wing, outwardly racist small political parties guarantees now another election, and another delay in setting expectations for the country and the region until close to November, within a year of America’s own election. Now would be a terrible time for Kushner to step forward. Israeli newspapers say this outwardly, and so do the candidates other than Netanyahu, who personal braggadocio would never allow timing to be a factor for anything he wants.

· Trump. Our president has been willing back Netanyahu at any cost, overcoming tradition and practical politics of offending Palestinians by formally recognizing Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, moving the U.S. embassy there, backing Netanyahu’s expansion of Israeli settlements, and generally lumping Palestinians in with all Muslims to be barred, if possible, from even entering the United States. He has discarded the U.S. role as neutral mediator in the Middle East to take on what has become, by fact, support for a one-state solution in the area, with Israel in charge, erecting walls, even passing legislation to make permanent a second-class citizen status for any Palestinians who live in Israel. Another election is another round of public hugging of Netanyahu for Trump, and a further distancing of acceptance of any peace plan. For Trump, any peace plan is not only pro-Israel for strategic reasons, it serves his political base of donors like casino-magnate Sheldon Adelson and the Christian evangelical movement. Our ambassador, David Friedman, is publicly supporting the annexation of at least some, if not all, West Bank Jewish settlements, a surefire death knell for two-state solutions.

· Iran.Apart from all else, the United States’ on-again, off-again belligerence towards Iran is creating its own pressures for rejection of any perceived U.S. leadership role in the Middle East. Instead, Russia, Turkey, even China are taking on more substantial roles in a critical region where Syria remains a political mess, the Saudis (and therefore we) are in a war with the Yemenis, and where oil rules across all political and religious rifts over the centuries. At risk here is nuclear weaponization of Iran as well as its array of shadow militias and terrorist friends, from Hezbollah in Lebanon and Gaza to competition with a weakened Palestinian leadership.

· Saudi Arabia has emerged as Kushner’s big backer, and, in return, Kushner, Trump and the White House have gone easy on Saudi crown prince Muhammad Bin Salman, who remains at the center of a murder plot to kill American journalist Jamal Khasogghi in Turkey more than a year ago. The Saudis are remaking their own country, revisiting old religious rifts between Sunnis and Shias, at war with Yemen and in conflict in Bahrain, in Oman, in Qatar, and, most of all with Iran, whom they regard as a competitor for regional leadership. If Iran is against it — including Middle East Peace — they are for it, unless, as in so many other areas, they play both sides. Is Saudi involvement in 9/11 something we just look away from?

· Other players. Iraq is kicking up dust again as a country, and the United States has agreed to send another 1,500 troops to the region — ostensibly to keep an eye on Iran. Militarily that sounds nuts, but the United States has also deployed a flotilla of naval ships to the Gulf after two attacks on oil tankers in those waters, attacks that U.S. officials blame on Iran. Support for the U.S. role in Yemen is flagging in Congress, which has passed bipartisan condemnations of continued U.S. support for the Saudis, votes of condemnation that Trump is ignoring. In Syria, we have reached the destruction of the physical caliphate that ISIS had established, but we have no clue about the international reach of terrorism being exported from the Middle East.

I could go on, but the situation in the Middle East today is powder-keg touchy, and it is too easy to imagine a rogue or state-sponsored event that could kick off a far wider war.

It is into this political maelstrom that Jared Kushner starts walking as early as the end of this month as Kushner convenes an economic conference in Bahrain. The Palestinians have announced they will boycott the meeting. The Israelis are going, if only to allow Netanyahu to pursue ties to Sunnis who hate Iran and Shias. The agenda is economic rather than security, but that is the real subject. Kushner did persuade Qatar, supporter of Gaza, to attend.

The Washington Postreported even this morning that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered a sobering assessment of the prospects of the Trump administration’s long-awaited Middle East peace plan in a closed-door meeting with Jewish leaders, saying “one might argue” that the plan is “unexecutable” and it might not “gain traction.” He expressed his hope that the deal isn’t simply dismissed out of hand, according to a recording of the session.

The next time you hear Trump bandying about a U.S.-led peace plan for the Middle East, just nod and move on.