Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said he welcomed an upcoming visit by three top US officials to advance President Donald Trump’s Mideast peace initiative.
“Trump will soon be sending [senior adviser and son-in-law] Jared Kushner and [Special Envoy for International Negotiations] Jason Greenblatt for talks in the region, and of course Jerusalem, in an effort to jump-start a diplomatic process,” Netanyahu told his ministers at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting. The two will be joined by Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategy Dina Powell.
“We of course will welcome them as always,” he said.
On Friday, a White House official told the Times of Israel that Trump believes an “opportunity” has opened up to advance his peace initiative and was sending senior administration officials to the region in the coming days.
Kushner, Greenblatt and Powell will meet with leaders from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Jordan, Egypt, Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
The decision to send the delegation was made after consultations with a cohort of the president’s top advisers, including newly installed Chief of Staff John Kelly, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman.
The senior administration official said that Trump sees an opportunity to push ahead with his attempts to renew negotiations.
“He believes that the restoration of calm and the stabilized situation in Jerusalem after the recent crisis on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif has created an opportunity to continue discussions and the pursuit of peace that began early in his administration,” the official told The Times of Israel.
Trump has asked his delegation to focus the talks on this trip around several broad themes, inclusive finding “a path to substantive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, combating extremism [and dealing with] the situation in Gaza, including how to ease the humanitarian crisis there.”
They are also instructed to discuss “strengthening our relations with regional partners and the economic steps that can be taken both now and after a peace deal is signed to ensure security, stability and prosperity for the region,” the official added.
Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, welcomed the impending visit.
“We are committed to peace based on the two-state solution,” he said. “We informed the American administration that we are ready for peace on this basis. And we are waiting now for the American delegation to work together toward peace.”
The announcement comes as numerous Palestinian leaders have started to criticize the US since the crisis in a seeming retreat from the warm embrace they engaged in when Trump visited the West Bank in May.
King Abdullah II of Jordan, however, has thanked Trump for reducing tensions and helping find a solution.
The latest announcement also comes after off-the-record remarks by Kushner — made to a casual gathering of congressional interns — were leaked to the media in which he said there may not be a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
And yet, Kushner also stressed that the administration would strive to broker a deal and find a workable solution.
“We’re going to focus on it and try to come to the right conclusion in the near future,” he said, but noted that he wasn’t sure the US could offer the parties “anything unique.”
He also made remarks that seemed to side with Israel on its handling of the latest flare-up surrounding the Jerusalem holy site.
After a July 14 terror attack in which three Arab Israelis shot dead two Israeli police officers with weapons they had smuggled onto the Temple Mount, Israel installed new security measures, including metal detectors and cameras, which set off near-daily clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces in and around the Old City, East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
It also triggered a boycott by Muslim worshipers who threatened not to return to the site until all the installations were removed.
Kushner said the incident showed how “combustible” the conflict was, while he also went on to defend actions Israel took after the attack, saying Israel’s security measures were “not an irrational thing to do.”
“They say look, you know, this is a change to the status quo. The Temple Mount is an [unintelligible] occupation of Israel, and Israel was saying we don’t want anything to do with that, we just want to make sure people are safe,” he said. “And that really incited a lot of tension in the streets.”
On Friday, the White House official emphasized Trump’s belief that a solution cannot be imposed but only reached through direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
“While the regional talks will play an important role, the president reaffirms that peace between Israelis and Palestinians can only be negotiated directly between the two parties and that the United States will continue working closely with the parties to make progress towards that goal,” the official said.
Trump, he added, “has previously noted that achieving an enduring Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement will be difficult but he remains optimistic that peace is possible.”
AP contributed to this report.