If it moves rapidly, the US administration is exceptionally well-placed to achieve substantive progress on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, former US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro said Monday.
Given the positive relations President Donald Trump has established with all the major players in the region, it will be difficult for them to turn down any request he and his emissaries make as they try to restart bilateral negotiations, Shapiro, who served as president Barack Obama’s ambassador here from August 2011 until January 2011, said hours after the White House announced it was sending two top officials to try to jump-start talks.
“I think they should move quickly. I believe the president is at the point of his maximum leverage right now,” Shapiro said during a conference call organized by The Israel Project. “It’s very difficult for any party in the region, after those early positive interactions, to say no to him. He has established friendly relations; each sides wants to do more to deepen those positive relations with him.”
Both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas have visited Trump in the White House and subsequently hosted him during his May trip to the region. Trump, who said in Israel on May 23 that he was convinced both sides are “ready to reach for peace,” has also met with other key stakeholders, such as the leaders of Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
On Monday morning, a senior White House official said the president’s special envoy for international negotiations, Jason Greenblatt, and his senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, would visit the region this week to advance the peace process.
Kushner and Greenblatt ‘have a real opportunity to move quickly to capitalize on the leverage the president has attained’
While Greenblatt has shuttled to Jerusalem and Ramallah a number of times since Trump took office, the addition of Kushner, considered one of the more powerful figures in the administration, raises the stakes, Shapiro posited.
“It essentially dares each party to say no. And my guess is they won’t,” he said.
If Kushner and Greenblatt were to present, on the president’s behalf, a set of principles and guidelines to guide the negotiations process, no party will want to risk being seen as the one rejecting it out of hand, the former envoy predicted.
“They may say ‘yes, but.’ They may say ‘yes’ with reservations. But I think they [Kushner and Greenblatt] have a real opportunity to move quickly to capitalize on the leverage the president has attained,” he said.
Shapiro pointed to Trump’s unpredictability, including his famous affinity for lashing out at people on Twitter, as a source of Israelis’ and Palestinians’ fears of saying no to the administration. His tweeting “is an asset in that context” and regional leaders’ concern over a possible reprisal for perceived obstinacy “gives him additional leverage,” said Shapiro, who currently serves as a distinguished visiting fellow at Tel Aviv’s Institute for National Security Studies.
Trump has made plain that he has certain concrete expectations of all sides — i.e, Israel’s limiting settlement building and the PA’s cutting of payments to terrorists’ families — and has hinted that he asked moderate Sunni Arab states to make “gestures of normalization to Israel,” Shapiro said.
“It seems to me that his preliminary conversations have led to the point where the time is coming for he and his administration to put forth their own ideas, perhaps to propose a set of principles to guide negotiations on final status and on the steps each side can take to support that effort,” said Shapiro, who was involved in the last round of failed talks, in 2013-2014.
Kushner and Greenblatt will meet with Netanyahu and Abbas separately in the coming days, to discuss “their priorities and potential next steps,” the senior White House official told The Times of Israel Monday morning.
“It is important to remember that forging a historic peace agreement will take time and to the extent that there is progress, there are likely to be many visits by both Mr. Kushner and Mr. Greenblatt, sometimes together and sometimes separately, to the region and possibly many trips by Israeli and Palestinian negotiators to Washington, DC, or other locations as they pursue substantive talks,” the senior official said.
Greenblatt is expected in the region on Monday, followed by Kushner on Wednesday.
“Even while working behind the scenes to advance direct, bilateral negotiations between the parties, we will continue to communicate with the relevant constituencies throughout the region,” the senior official said, “to remind all that peace is possible and to demonstrate the many positive benefits that would arise from a successful negotiations.”
The official said the two would “continue conversations” with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, following their trip last month to the region with the president himself. Trump met with Netanyahu and Abbas and a host of other officials in pursuit of what he has called “the ultimate deal.”
No major breakthroughs were expected this week, the official added, stressing, however that “the president has asked some of his most trusted advisers to spearhead the peace effort.”
“President Trump has made it clear that working toward achieving a lasting peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians is a top priority for him,” the White House official said. “He strongly believes that peace is possible.”
Don’t miss Dan Shapiro at ‘Times of Israel Presents,’ Sunday, July 2. Interviewed by David Horovitz
8 PM Jerusalem Cinematheque
Tickets 50NIS, available here
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