Kushner Peace Plan Collides Into Wall of Skeptical Envoys at UN
Jared Kushner, senior White House adviser. (Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Kushner Peace Plan Collides Into Wall of Skeptical Envoys at UN

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(Bloomberg) -- Jared Kushner pressed United Nations diplomats over a two-hour lunch on Thursday to buy into his vision of Middle East peace, saying it’s time to stop talking about the past and turn a new page in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Not everyone came away convinced.

Over branzino and a file of PowerPoint slides at the U.S. Mission to the UN in New York, more than a dozen Security Council diplomats peppered Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, with skeptical questions on his plan. Several ambassadors noted that the proposal had failed to evoke any interest by the Palestinians in coming to the negotiating table, casting doubt on its viability.

At least one Security Council diplomat wasn’t at the briefing. Tunisian Ambassador Moncef Baati, who introduced a pro-Palestinian resolution critical of the Trump administration’s proposal earlier in the week, was abruptly recalled to the North African nation and dismissed. The move was tied to his sponsorship of the resolution, and his absence rattled envoys in New York.

“It was quite a shock,” Belgium Ambassador Marc Pecsteen, who participated in the lunch, said on Friday at the UN, adding that he wasn’t aware of all the circumstances behind the move.

Officials at Tunisia’s UN mission didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Officials at the White House’s National Security Council didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Kushner’s presentation.

Trump’s Mideast peace effort has been a hard sell to the global community since he assigned it to Kushner in the days before taking office in 2017. Last December, Trump said that “if Jared Kushner can’t do it, it can’t be done.”

The president unveiled his proposal at a White House event last month alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who’s mired in a contentious re-election bid and facing corruption charges. The White House approach leading to the plan has long been criticized internationally for providing Israel with quick wins while making concessions to the Palestinians contingent on a list of milestones.

Trump’s actions since taking office -- including moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and recognizing Israeli sovereignty of the Golan Heights -- largely benefited Israel while giving little to the Palestinians, who said the U.S. had given up its decades-long role as a credible mediator in the peace process.

At Thursday’s lunch, Kushner parried criticism of the plan -- which Netanyahu said gives Israel a green light to annex a swath of settlements in the West Bank -- with the argument that the conflict can be solved only if diplomats work with reality as it is, not as they want it to be. That means accepting that one side is far stronger than the other, he said.

While few nations have rallied to the American side -- U.S. allies including France, Egypt and Turkey have criticized the proposal -- several officials at the lunch said Kushner’s proposal was a serious effort and showed he was invested in the issue. The lunch was viewed by the envoys as cordial, not combative. One diplomat said that while the U.S. plan isn’t how the international community would have liked to initiate peace talks, the Palestinians risk losing more by not engaging.

Ambassadors including Russian envoy Vassily Nebenzya, however, argued that in a true negotiation the Americans should be willing to offer the Palestinians something to get them to the table.

When one diplomat mentioned that Palestinians had core demands they couldn’t relinquish, Kushner retorted that conventional approaches have been tried for decades and failed.

The U.S. proposal holds out the potential of billions of dollars in investments to aid Palestinian development. But that funding isn’t secured, the projects for it to fund don’t exist and it’s not clear what say Palestinians would have in directing the support.

Kushner, who’s a senior adviser to Trump, pointed out that Israel’s gross domestic product is approaching $400 billion while the Palestinian economy stands at about $15 billion.

Doing nothing to improve Palestinian lives now, Kushner argued, means Israel’s hand will only strengthen as the gap grows further.

He then argued that getting Netanyahu’s right-wing government to accept the two-state idea was a significant achievement, though the prime minister had embraced such a plan -- calling for a demilitarized Palestinian state alongside Israel -- in 2009, before appearing to walk it back in subsequent years.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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