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There has been an explosion; not the kind experts predicted

Kushner: Trump’s Jerusalem recognition led to ‘explosion of peace’ in region

White House senior adviser links president’s recognition of capital to subsequent normalization deals, recalling and dismissing criticism that move would inflame tensions

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner after planting an olive tree at the Jerusalem Grove of Nations on December 21, 2020. (Amos Ben Gershom/ GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner after planting an olive tree at the Jerusalem Grove of Nations on December 21, 2020. (Amos Ben Gershom/ GPO)

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner said Monday that US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital yielded an “explosion of peace” in the region.

“It turns out Jerusalem is not the cause of the problem — it is the core of the solution,” Kushner said at a tree-planting ceremony in the capital’s Grove of Nations.

Trump’s son-in-law was in Israel along with other senior White House staff who will be joining their Israeli counterparts on Tuesday on the first-ever nonstop flight from Tel Aviv to Rabat, where the sides will seek to advance the Israel-Morocco normalization agreement announced earlier this month.

“In 2017, President Trump was strongly warned that recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel would set off an explosion in the Middle East,” Kushner said at the ceremony honoring his peace efforts.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner plant an olive tree at the Jerusalem Grove of Nations on December 21, 2020. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

“As it turned out, there has been an explosion, just not the kind of explosion the experts thought might happen. President Trump’s bold decisions led to an explosion of peace,” he said.

Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem was widely condemned by the Arab world, including by states that would later normalize with Israel.

“Some have used the cause of Jerusalem to divide; Jerusalem remains proudly open,” Kushner claimed, saying that people of all faiths are free to practice their religions in the city.

“Over the last four months, we’ve now achieved four peace agreements and thanks to four years of hard work, I do think the benefits of that will be felt for years to come,” said Kushner, referring to the decisions by the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco to normalize relations with Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was present at the ceremony and joined Kushner in planting 18 olive trees at the Grove of Nations. The premier said his national security adviser, Meir Ben Shabbat, would be leading the Israeli delegation to Morocco and would meet with King Mohammed VI.

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speak at a press conference at the prime minister’s Jerusalem residence on December 21, 2020. (Screen capture/YouTube)

“Please give him my warmest regards and the regards of the entire people of Israel for the brave and important historic decision he has made,” Netanyahu said.

“In planting this garden, we’ll make sure that future generations know what your contribution has been,” the prime minister told Kushner. “And, on a personal note, I would like to express my appreciation for the young teenager I met many years ago, in fact in your house, who has grown up to become a man of stature who helped change the history of our region and the history of Israel.”

Also on Monday, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman dedicated the courtyard of the American Embassy in Jerusalem in honor of Kushner, who led the Trump administration’s Middle East peace efforts.

Friedman noted that dedicating portions of American embassies to individuals is “a rarity.”

Asked if any other normalization agreement were on the table, Kushner said at the ceremony that he was “very hopeful that there are more peace deals to be had.”

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman dedicates the US embassy courtyard to Jared Kushner, on December 21, 2020. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

At a Monday evening press conference with Kushner, Netanyahu again thanked the Trump administration, which in addition to recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving its embassy there from Tel Aviv, recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, unveiled a peace plan that envisions Israel annexing all West Bank settlements, and changed its import policy to require all settlement products to be labeled as having been made in Israel. It also ended US funding for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees while slashing other aid for Ramallah, and closed the PLO’s mission in Washington.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a press conference with US Presidential Adviser Jared Kushner in Jerusalem on December 21, 2020. (RONEN ZVULUN / X90084 / AFP)

The administration was also pivotal in negotiating the normalization deals between Israel and four Arab countries.

“This peace between Jews and Arabs outside of Israel is creating a new positive dynamic between Jews and Arabs in Israel,” Netanyahu claimed.

Kushner asserted that “scapegoating, anti-Semitism, and isolating Israel have led to destructive behavior that has held the world back for far too long.”

In lauding Netanyahu, he said the premier has “shown that Israel is willing to compromise for true peace, just not her security.”

“I urge the world as it goes forward to take the time to understand Israel’s perspective and to ask yourself if you would make the compromises Israel has been asked to make if you were in the prime minister’s shoes,” Kushner said.

“I would also like to express my love and best wishes to the amazing people of Israel and say that you will remain in my daily prayers, and I have great confidence that your future will continue to be bright and exciting,” he said.

“While we have all played a role in these breakthroughs, Middle East peace is such an impossible task that it is only possible due to the intent and blessings of God,” he said.

The Tuesday El Al flight to Rabat has been given the call sign LY555 in reference to the five-fingered hand or hamsa (five in Arabic) popular as a good-luck symbol in both countries.

US President Donald Trump, accompanied by (from left), US special envoy for Iran, Brian Hook; Avraham Berkowitz, assistant to the president and special representative for international negotiations; US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman; Trump’s White House senior adviser Jared Kushner; and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, applauding in the Oval Office at the White House, August 12, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The historic trip will take place less than two weeks after the North African kingdom announced that it was establishing diplomatic relations with the Jewish state following a decision by Trump to recognize Morocco’s sovereignty over the disputed Western Sahara.

Israel and Morocco established low-level diplomatic relations during the 1990s, following a thawing of ties between Israel and the Palestinians. Those contacts were suspended in 2002 in response to the Second Intifada. Since then, the relationship has continued informally, with tens of thousands of Israelis traveling to Morocco every year. Some 3,000 Jews still live in Morocco, once home to hundreds of thousands.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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