Kushner to make Israel trip later this month, meet with Gantz for first time
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Kushner to make Israel trip later this month, meet with Gantz for first time

White House adviser will also convene with Netanyahu, is reportedly seeking to assess prospects of government being formed as US peace plan remains on hold

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner listens as he attends a working breakfast with US President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan, Saturday, June 29, 2019. (Susan Walsh/AP)
White House senior adviser Jared Kushner listens as he attends a working breakfast with US President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan, Saturday, June 29, 2019. (Susan Walsh/AP)

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner will visit Israel later this month and hold his first official meeting with Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz.

Kushner, who is expected to be accompanied by new US peace envoy Avi Berkowitz and special envoy for Iran Brian Hook, is also expected to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Berkowitz is taking over from outgoing envoy Jason Greenblatt, who announced his departure in September.

An exact date for Kushner’s visit has not yet been announced, but it will likely be after October 24, the deadline for Netanyahu to form a new government. President Reuven Rivlin is widely expected to then give the mandate for assembling a coalition to Gantz.

Outgoing US Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt is seen with successor Avi Berkowitz in an April photo (Twitter)

According to Israel’s Channel 13 news, Kushner’s visit will likely be aimed at taking the political temperature in Israel and assessing the chances of a government being formed, with the Trump administration having said it won’t release its peace plan until there’s a new coalition in Israel.

The peace proposal was expected to be released following September’s elections in Israel but with the country’s political system deadlocked following the vote, and with no clear prospect for a new government to be formed in the near future, it remains unclear when the plan will be unveiled.

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said Wednesday the US will release its plan soon after a new government is formed and expects a prompt response from the next Israeli government.

The peace plan will be released in its current form regardless of who the Israeli people chose to be their leader, he stressed.

The ambassador also said the plan will not call for uprooting a single settler.

“Having seen the experience of the evacuation of Gaza [in the summer of 2005], I don’t believe that there is a realistic plan that can be implemented that would require anyone — Jew or Arab — to be forced to leave their home,” Friedman told the pro-settler Israel National News website.

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman speaks at a rally of pro-Israel Christians in Jerusalem, October 6, 2019 (David Azagury, US Embassy Jerusalem)

“We think that’s just a recipe for disaster. It almost caused a civil war on much less aggressive circumstances in Gaza, compared to Judea and Samaria,” he said, referring to Israel’s 2005 disengagement from Gaza, in which some 8,000 settlers were moved in a several-day operation.

“And so we are not of the view that any forced evacuations are achievable,” he said.

There are an estimated 350,000 Israelis living in West Bank settlements, plus hundreds of thousands more in East Jerusalem neighborhoods that Palestinians claim for their future state.

Top Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said Friedman’s interview with a pro-settlement outlet reaffirmed “the ideological commonalities between the Trump team and the Israeli settlers’ movement. Both agree that Israeli settlements, recognized as war crimes under international law that deny the Palestinian right to self-determination, should remain in occupied Palestine forever.”

In a statement, Erekat called on the international community to “take immediate action to save the prospects of a just and lasting peace against the systematic attempts of the US administration and Israel to undermine international law and perpetuate the denial of the inalienable rights of the people of Palestine.”

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

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.

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