Expectations low as Kushner leads delegation to Israel

The Trump administration's diplomats are considered ineffective in both Jerusalem and Ramallah


In yet another attempt to relaunch the Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic process, the Trump administration’s senior representatives are to visit the region before the end of the month. However, both in Jerusalem and Ramallah, expectations of any breakthrough have never been lower. 

President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner, who was appointed to oversee the Israel-Palestine issue, is expected to arrive in Israel in the last week of August. Mr Kushner’s delegation will also include Jason Greenblatt, the president’s special representative for international negotiations, and Dina Powell, the deputy national security advisor. They are also scheduled to visit other American allies in the region including Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates. 

The visit is taking place amid complaints by both Middle Eastern and western diplomats that American involvement in the region has never been less effective than under the Trump administration. During last month’s crisis around the Temple Mount security arrangements, Mr Kushner is reported to have made phone calls to leaders in the region but to have played only a very minor role in lowering the tensions. 

Unlike previous rounds of diplomacy, the US State Department is barely involved now, particularly while Mr Kushner and his team are distracted by legal problems at home surrounding the investigation into the Trump campaign’s alleged ties to Russia.

PLO Secretary General Saeb Erekat, who is also the Palestinians’ chief negotiator, said two weeks ago that the administration’s silence over further construction by Israel in the West Bank settlements had become “an obstacle” to the resumption of talks. While President Trump has spoken of achieving a peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians as the “ultimate deal”, from the Palestinian perspective all they have seen from him are complaints on the incitement against Israel and demands to cut benefit payments to prisoners and the families of terrorists.

The Palestinians suspect that the administration’s main representatives, Mr Kushner, Mr Greenblatt and ambassador to Israel David Friedman, are all instinctively supportive of the Israeli right wing and incapable of acting as “honest brokers”.

Israel, meanwhile, has its own priorities with the administration and these do not include the Palestinian issue. A separate Israeli delegation, headed by Mossad’s director Yossi Cohen, is in Washington now to discuss the ceasefire arrangements in Syria, which have been endorsed by Washington and Moscow.

The Israeli delegation will be meeting with National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster and other senior administration officials. The Israeli government is concerned that under the ceasefire Iranian forces and proxies, including Hezbollah and Shi’a militias under the command of Iranian officers, will be allowed to take control of positions near Israel’s Golan border. 

Mr Cohen said on Sunday in a cabinet briefing that “in places where Daesh’s presence is shrinking, Iran is acting to fill the vacuum”. In recent months, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has expressed these concerns repeatedly in talks with both President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin but, in the terms of ceasefire so far agreed by Russian and the US, they have not been addressed.

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