Kushner tells diplomats he believes in peace plan, despite long odds — report

Participant at Warsaw conference quotes Trump’s son-in-law as saying that ‘privately, people are much more flexible’ than in public; proposal to be released after Israeli elections

White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner at a conference on Peace and Security in the Middle East in Warsaw, Poland, on February 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner at a conference on Peace and Security in the Middle East in Warsaw, Poland, on February 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — US President Donald Trump’s senior Middle East adviser, son-in-law Jared Kushner, said Thursday that the Trump administration would unveil its much-awaited Middle East “Deal of the Century” after the Israeli elections on April 9.

Kushner briefed participants at a security conference in Poland about the plan but would not go into details for fear of it leaking, according to a diplomat who watched the presentation. But he did say the plan would be released sometime after Israel’s upcoming election. The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity according to protocol.

The diplomat quoted Kushner as saying that Trump had given him the Israeli-Palestinian “file” to give the long-elusive goal of a peace agreement “a shot.” Despite the long odds, he said he believed “privately, people are much more flexible.”

The Palestinians have pre-emptively rejected the plan, accusing the Trump White House of being unfairly biased toward Israel. They say that all signs indicate the plan will fall far short of their longstanding goal of establishing an independent Palestinian state in the Israeli-controlled West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip.

“There will be no peace and stability in the Middle East without a peaceful solution that leads to a Palestinian state, with Jerusalem as a capital,” said Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The Palestinians skipped Thursday’s conference and also asked Arab countries to boycott or downgrade their representation. Some 60 countries are taking part in the gathering.

First row from left, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Yemen’s Foreign Minister Khalid al-Yamani, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz, former Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende and White House Senior Advisor Jared Kushner, right, attend a session at the conference on Peace and Security in the Middle East in Warsaw, Poland, on February 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

Kushner has been working on an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan for close to two years but has yet to release any details, and the release of his plan has been repeatedly delayed.

US officials had said Kushner would make some comments in Warsaw about the conflict. But Netanyahu said ahead of time he didn’t expect any discussion of the peace plan, with the focus of the conference on participants’ shared concern over Iran and its growing influence in the region.

The diplomat quoted Netanyahu joking at some point to Kushner that “having this file” is a “tough one.”

“But, if you are crazy enough, and I think you might just be, you can come up with new ideas,” he said.

Netanyahu also urged all interested parties, particularly the Palestinians, to wait for the plan to come out before reacting to it or rejecting it.

In later comments alongside Vice President Mike Pence, Netanyahu said he looked forward to “seeing the plan once it is presented.”

United States Vice President Mike Pence, right, shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Warsaw, Poland, on February 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

US officials have signaled the plan will be heavily focused on Palestinian economic development. They also have refused to endorse the concept of a Palestinian state — a goal that has enjoyed wide international backing for the past two decades.

The US recognition of contested Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, along with the cancellation of hundreds of millions of dollars in American aid to the Palestinians, have prompted the Palestinians to cut off ties with the White House and pre-emptively reject the peace plan.

Even if it falls short of Palestinian aspirations, the plan could also run into Israeli opposition. Netanyahu’s governing coalition is comprised of religious and nationalist hardliners who oppose serious concessions to the Palestinians. With Netanyahu seeking re-election, and pledging to form a similar coalition if he wins, it is unlikely that he would make any concessions, particularly before the April 9 vote.

US presidential adviser Jared Kushner, left, meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on June 21, 2017 (PA press office)

Kushner, according to the diplomat, said the history of the Middle East had shown that “pessimists” about Israeli-Palestinian peace were “usually right.” But he stressed that “it’s the optimists that bring the change.”

With the Palestinians sidelined, Netanyahu has tried to use the Warsaw conference to get closer to other Arab nations aligned with it against Iran.

Netanyahu has long boasted of clandestinely developing good relations with several Arab states, despite a lack of official ties. Bringing such contacts out into the open would mark a major diplomatic coup and put a seal of approval on his goal of improving Israel’s standing in the world, and particularly with Arabs.

On Wednesday, he met with Oman’s foreign minister, Yusuf bin Alawi, and at Thursday’s opening session he was seated next to the foreign minister of Yemen, as representatives of Kuwait, Qatar and others looked on.

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