Only two days after US President Donald Trump’s visit to Israel and the West Bank, his Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt is expected to arrive in Israel on Thursday to continue efforts to restart peace talks.
Nikki Haley, the American ambassador to the UN, will also arrive on a three-day visit to Israel in early June and will be accompanied by her Israeli counterpart Danny Danon.
Haley, who will be visiting Israel for the first time, is expected to meet with President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. She is also scheduled to visit Israel’s southern and northern borders and get a helicopter tour of Israel.
Haley will visit Jerusalem’s Old City, the Western Wall, the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum and Tel Aviv. She is also expected to visit the Palestinian Authority.
Trump spent some 28 hours visiting Israel and meeting with Netanyahu in Jerusalem and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem.
A White House statement about Trump’s meeting with Netanyahu said that the two leaders “discussed how to move forward with Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. President Trump reaffirmed his belief that peace is possible, not only between Israelis and Palestinians but throughout large parts of the Middle East.”
The statement further noted that “President Trump welcomed the steps that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s security cabinet has taken to improve the Palestinian economy, noting that greater economic opportunity for Palestinians would enhance the prospects for peace.”
Arab leaders in Saudi Arabia. A joint statement with Saudi Arabia issued by the White House said: “The two sides stressed the importance of reaching a comprehensive peace between Israelis and Palestinians. The leaders agreed to do everything they can to promote an environment that is conducive to advancing peace.”
While he was in Israel, Trump also met with Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) on Tuesday at the Israel Museum. Jason Greenblatt and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who also serves as the president’s advisor, were also present at the meeting. Kushner told Herzog that Trump always surprises and that their goal was to create the conditions to renew peace negotiations in the foreseeable future.
One senior administration official told Reuters that Kushner was treading carefully to avoid stepping into “the same traps” that have tripped up previous efforts. “He’s a good listener and he’s trying to learn as much as he can,” the official said.
Keeping his cards close to his chest
Kushner, who wields tremendous clout within the White House on a broad range of issues, is not a full-time envoy in the traditional model that previous US administrations have employed when peace negotiations were under way.
Rather than broadcasting his plans and dashing among the parties in a high-profile display of shuttle diplomacy, as more traditional envoys were known to do, his approach has been decidedly low-key, delegating much of the work.
The shoe-leather tasks of day-to-day discussions with leaders in Jerusalem, Ramallah, Amman and the Gulf to gather input and regional perspective has been handled byTrump’s envoy Jason Greenblatt to arrive in Israel two days after US president’s visit, a real-estate lawyer and long-term Trump loyalist.
While Kushner has visited Iraq and now Saudi Arabia, and has long had business ties to Israel, including supporting a settlement in the West Bank, Trump’s envoy Jason Greenblatt to arrive in Israel two days after US president’s visit has taken the day-to-day lead and reported back to Kushner on progress.
A handful of senior officials on the Israeli and Palestinian sides confirmed they had met with Kushner, but just as quickly underlined that they had nothing to say about what was discussed. It is as if a veil of secrecy is drawn over anything to do with the real-estate developer husband of Ivanka Trump.
Kushner, a practicing Orthodox Jew, has known Prime Minister Netanyahu for about 20 years, dating to his childhood, when Netanyahu knew Kushner’s father.
He also has personal ties to Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador to the United States. Nevertheless, Israeli officials say they do not think Kushner takes their side uncritically.
“In the beginning, it looked like Kushner really admired Dermer, really hung on his every word. That created the sense that it was all going to be good: Jared’s young, he’s Jewish, he likes us, he understands us, it’s going to be easy,” said one person close to the prime minister’s office.
“But as time has gone by, that impression has changed somewhat. Now people are not so convinced they were right. Jared is his own man.”
To demonstrate its fairness, the Trump administration invited Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to the White House weeks before Trump’s trip to Israel. Kushner and Greenblatt had a two-hour breakfast in Washington with Abbas before Abbas met with Trump, according to a source familiar with the meeting.
Yet many Palestinians say they are skeptical that someone with such close ties to Israel can ever be even-handed. The Palestinians believe that Israel is deliberately stalling any peace process while it builds settlements on Palestinian land, and Israel will negotiate only if Washington applies pressure.
“Kushner is good for Israel because of his … fanatic positions” said Hani al-Masri, a Palestinian political analyst based in the West Bank city of Ramallah. It was probably better that Kushner was slow to unveil any peace plan, because “if he acted it would be for the sake of Israel,” he said.
But Masri also said he suspected the Americans would take their time in laying out any concrete proposals to restart the peace process because Israel did not want to make concessions.
“Both of them (Kushner and Trump) are not in a hurry because they know that the current Israeli government will not give anything.”
By Ynet News. Reuters and Elisha Ben-Kimon contributed to this story.