Kushner Collects a Bagful of Mid-East Noes for the US Peace Plan

President Donald Trump said on Monday, June 25 that “a lot of progress had been made in the Middle East,” but he did not say when the White House would release his administration’s Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, which his two advisers, Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt had been touting for the past week. During a meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah, Trump also referred to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, and remarked, “Things are a lot different since we ended that,” and “things had improved” since then.

But the reverse is the case, DEBKA Weekly reports after surveying the outcome of the Jared-Greenblatt seven-day (June 16-24) tour of six Middle East capitals. They got exactly nowhere in their bid to sell the US peace plan to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan, Qatar or Israel. Trump’s emissaries were told that the US plan was unrealistic and ill-timed by the Saudi and Emirati crown princes, Muhammad bin Salman (MbS) and Muhammad bin Zayed (MbZ), Egyptian President Abdul Fatteh El-Sisi, Qatar’s Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al Thani and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. They all insisted that with the region in turmoil, now was not the right time to discuss the peace proposal’s clauses in detail and advised shelving it for a future date.

Not content with this rebuff, the Jordanian king flew to Washington on Monday night, June 24, to warn President Trump face to face that publication of the US peace plan now would set off more unstable currents in his kingdom and a fresh round of terrorist attacks in Israel. He took Queen Raina, who is of Palestinian descent, along on his trip to Washington, to accentuate the fact that more than 50 percent of Jordan’s population are Palestinians and another potential source of instability. He also stressed his fixed position on Jerusalem.

Trump made the king no promises about his peace plan before receiving a briefing from Kushner and Greenblatt on their six-point trip. But it is hard to see him finding time to attend to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with so much urgent business on his plate – his summit with Vladimir Putin in mid-July, the North Korean nuclear issue, the trade wars he has set off with China, Canada and China, Iran’s machinations, and the immigration controversy at home.

DEBKA Weekly’s sources report that the work Kushner and Greenblatt performed in the past year remolded the US Israeli-Palestinian peace plan into a format closer to an economic blueprint than a political program. For solutions to the intractable problem of Palestinians divided between two territories – 2.5 million on the West Bank under the rule of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, and 1.7 million living in the Gaza Strip under a Hamas regime – they shaped two separate economies supported by international institutions. International assistance would be on tap for improving Palestinian living standards, providing jobs and bringing their economic, education and medical systems up to modern standards. Their plan would essentially create two separate Palestinian entities.

This concept ran into three specific difficulties:

  1. Extreme opposition from the Palestinian Authority – most markedly from its chairman Mahmoud Abbas, who sees the plan as a vehicle for weakening the Palestinian people by splitting it in two parts.
  2. Every single Arab ruler visited by Kushner and Greenblatt was adamantly opposed to it, although for their own reasons. But they all warned that if the plan was published at this time, they would be obliged to line up against it and support Abbas.
  3. The most vehement critic was the Egyptian president, on whom they had pinned hopes for a Gaza rehabilitation program that would kick off a comprehensive Palestinian solution. They started out by proposing to attach parts of the northern Sinai desert peninsula to the future independent Palestinian entity in the Gaza Strip. El-Sisi refused to even hear of this. The two Americans then cut their plan down to the establishment of industrial zones in northern Sinai as a source of jobs and an economic hinterland for Gazans. That too was rejected; El-Sisi refused to consider the building of a single Palestinian factory or project on Egyptian soil in northern Sinai. The only thing he was willing to look at was expanding the El Arish power station with US funding for supplementing electric power to the Gaza Strip. All in all, El-Sisi knocked the stuffing out of the Kushner-Greenblatt economic plan for the Gaza Strip.
  4. In any case, the two US envoys found all the Middle East rulers they approached deeply immersed in more pressing problems: Saudi Prince Muhammad is deeply involved in a military operation to defeat the Iranian-backed Houthi insurgency in Yemen, along with the UAE crown prince; Sheikh Tamim al Thani of Qatar is busy feuding with Saudi Arabia and the UAE; Abdullah of Jordan is gravely concerned by the Syria army’s advance on Daraa province and his border. He fears another 200,000 Syrian refugees turning up on his doorstep, bringing further destabilization to his kingdom; while Prime Minister Netanyahu has his hands full fighting off the corruption allegations hanging over his head and the indictment filed against his wife this week for defrauding the state over household expenses. He must also keep a weather eye on two escalating fronts – the North and Gaza.
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