Kushner meets Blue and White heads seeking to unseat Netanyahu
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Kushner meets Blue and White heads seeking to unseat Netanyahu

US delegation holds talks on bilateral ties with Gantz and Lapid, currently trying to put together a new government

From left to right: Blue and White Party MK Yair Lapid, party leader Benny Gantz, Special Adviser to the US President Jared Kushner, and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman during a meeting at the US Embassy in Jerusalem, October 28, 2019. (Jeries Mansour, US Embassy Jerusalem)
From left to right: Blue and White Party MK Yair Lapid, party leader Benny Gantz, Special Adviser to the US President Jared Kushner, and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman during a meeting at the US Embassy in Jerusalem, October 28, 2019. (Jeries Mansour, US Embassy Jerusalem)

Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner and other top US officials met with Blue and White Party leaders Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid on Monday for the first time, amid efforts by the politicians to cobble together a ruling coalition.

The sides discussed “the strong relationship and unbreakable alliance between the United States and Israel, and the ongoing developments in the Middle East,” the US Embassy said in a statement.

Kushner, US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, was joined by US Ambassador David Friedman, US Special Envoy Brian Hook and Deputy Assistant to the US President Avi Berkowitz.

Berkowitz recently took the reins of efforts to roll out the administration’s Israeli-Palestinian peace plan from Jason Greenblatt, who is leaving the White House.

The meeting was the first between Blue and White’s leadership and senior US officials, and came days after Gantz was tasked by President Reuven Rivlin with forming a government, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu having failed to put one together.

Two rounds of elections within six months have so far failed to produce a ruling government. Neither of the two largest parties, Gantz’s Blue and White and Netanyahu’s Likud, have a clear path to forming a majority coalition. The two parties have also been unable to agree on a unity government.

Netanyahu is seen as exceedingly close to the White House and had campaigned against Gantz by highlighting the former IDF head’s lack of familiarity with Trump, though US officials have insisted they will work with whoever becomes prime minister.

The US officials were in the country as part of a delegation led by US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin that is on a five-country tour of the Middle East and India, including Israel.

Kushner also met with Netanyahu, who held separate talks with Mnuchin on Monday.

According to Israel’s Channel 13 news Saturday, Kushner’s visit will likely be aimed at taking the political temperature in Israel and assessing the chances of a government being formed. The Trump administration has indicated it is unlikely to release its long-delayed peace plan before there’s a new government in place in Israel.

Friedman said last week the US would release its plan soon after a new government is formed and expects a prompt response from the next Israeli government.

Palestinians have rejected US peacemaking efforts, saying the administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and its withdrawal of aid from the Palestinian Authority have ruled it out as a mediator in the conflict.

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