Jared Kushner’s Assault on Mideast Peace

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- With Hamas and Israel on the brink of yet another war, Gaza is boiling over, as all intelligent observers have predicted for months.

Along with another wave of senseless, pointless death and destruction, this latest round of violence is a perfect apotheosis of the atrocious policies from Jared Kushner and the Donald Trump administration on all matters involving Israel and the Palestinians.

It’s hard to remember now, with hundreds of Hamas rockets fired at Southern Israel and hundreds of Israeli air strikes in Gaza, but the administration’s peace efforts began with great fanfare. Trump talked confidently about “the deal of the century” and said there’s “no reason whatsoever” there’s no peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

To signal the depth of his commitment, he appointed his son-in-law, Kushner, to spearhead the efforts, and made Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas one of his first guests to his White House. In April and May of 2017, Palestinian leaders were positively giddy at the prospect of having their issue suddenly resurrected by this least likely of benefactors.

They were, as many of us warned at the time, profoundly mistaken.

They quickly got the idea, as Trump dropped all references to a two-state solution, ratcheted down U.S. opposition to Israeli settlement activity, and eliminated any mention of the word “occupation.”

And then came the bombshell. Trump recognized Jerusalem, without qualification, as Israel’s capital, and moved the U.S. Embassy there. Kushner reportedly supported all these decisions.

The administration kidded itself that the Palestinians would just get over it or that Arab countries like Saudi Arabia would somehow be willing or able to force Palestinians to take part in negotiations under completely unacceptable terms.

Kushner and his team have no background in diplomacy or Middle East issues, except being ardent supporters of Israel, but did spend “10 months of educating themselves on the complexities” of the issues. “We don’t want a history lesson," Kushner said last summer. "We’ve read enough books”

Team Trump didn’t seem to realize until it was too late that there was no way for Palestinians to return to negotiations with Jerusalem, as the president put it, “taken off the table.”

Kushner persisted in talking up his vague plan even though was by then no way to release it without doing enormous harm. Moreover, there’s every indication he’s really talking about “economic peace,” the absurd idea that Palestinians will basically drop their quest to end the occupation and establish their own state if they are given enough money.

Early this year, when it became clear that Palestinians weren’t going to roll over and that Abbas wouldn’t and couldn’t get involved in negotiations under these circumstances, Kushner and company turned their attention to Gaza as “Plan B.”

That made a certain degree of sense. No matter how grotesquely the Trump administration has sabotaged its own stated intentions, and delivered the greatest blows to peace since the Oslo process began, the one thing everyone could agree on was the need for urgent humanitarian relief in Gaza.

Israeli officials bluntly predicted Gaza was a ticking time bomb of human misery. Egypt has been urgently seeking a way forward since last summer. Even Hamas is desperate for a solution.

The problem is that nobody wants to bring in aid in a way that rewards and bolsters Hamas. The obvious answer is to strengthen and return the Palestinian Authority to Gaza. But Abbas won’t agree to take responsibility for Gaza unless Hamas gives up its weapons. And Hamas won’t do that.

Egypt tried to cut this Gordian knot for months last year by bringing the PA back into Gaza but got nowhere. This year, another effort has been led by the United Nations' special envoy, Nickolay Mladenov. But he’s encountered the same conundrum. You can get around Hamas, but only through the PA. Yet Abbas regards the whole thing as a trap.

The answer would be to reward and reassure him that the international community has his back and won’t let him be suckered into a political disaster in which he accepts all the responsibility for Gaza with none of the necessary resources and with Hamas retaining all the military power, complete with its own foreign and defense policy.

That’s where Kushner again looms as a major problem. He and his team have issued a series of articles and interviews blaming everything on Hamas. Nothing they’re saying isn’t true. But to listen to them, you’d never know there was an Israeli occupation or blockade, or any of the other key factors that have so strongly contributed to the misery in Gaza, the divisions among Palestinians, and every other element of the present disaster.

Not content with that, Trump administration officials have trashed and denounced the PA leadership as well, further alienating Palestinians of every description. They’ve torched every bridge to Palestine with extreme precision. 

The administration has also slashed U.S. aid to the UN agency that aids Palestinian refugees, who make up at least 70 percent of the Gaza population, adding another catastrophe on top of the ongoing disaster.

And just to put the cherry on top of this fudge sundae of howlers, it’s been revealed that of late Kushner has been secretly pushing for “an honest and sincere effort to disrupt” UN efforts and pressing Jordan to strip the 2 million Palestinians living in there of refugee status so that they can no longer receive any UN humanitarian support.

His goal is obvious: to take the refugee issue, like Jerusalem, off the table once and for all, leaving the Palestinians with less leverage than ever, softening them up to accept his version of economic peace without political freedom or human rights.

While Kushner has been busy plotting against refugees, the situation in Gaza has steadily deteriorated. More than 100 largely unarmed Palestinians were shot by Israeli forces at the border. Gazans floated kites and balloons loaded with incendiaries over the Israeli border. Israeli soldiers were ambushed. It all led inexorably to this latest exchange of rocket and air attacks.

Sure, Jared Kushner didn’t create this mess. So, how can I lay it at his feet?

Because the only country that’s been in a real position to make any difference is the U.S. and, under his watch, more harm has been done to the prospects for peace and stability than in the previous two decades of blunders, bias and neglect from Washington.

In his emails about the UN relief agency, Kushner mused, “Sometimes you have to strategically risk breaking things.” He’s done that brilliantly, smashing both U.S. credibility and any hope for lasting peace into as many shards of glass as a window in southern Israel or an apartment in Gaza City.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Hussein Ibish is a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.

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