Trump’s peace envoys add stops in Jordan, Qatar to next week’s Mideast trip
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No meetings set with Palestinians, who boycott Trump team

Trump’s peace envoys add stops in Jordan, Qatar to next week’s Mideast trip

Jason Greenblatt and Jared Kushner scheduled to visit Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt to 'get some ideas' for US peace plan

Eric Cortellessa covers American politics for The Times of Israel.

L-R: Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, US President Donald Trump's Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt, White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategy Dina Powell and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman meet in Tel Aviv on August 24, 2017.  (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
L-R: Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, US President Donald Trump's Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt, White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategy Dina Powell and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman meet in Tel Aviv on August 24, 2017. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration’s top peace envoys have added stops in Jordan and Qatar to their trip to the Middle East next week for talks with regional leaders.

White House special adviser Jared Kushner and US Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt earlier this week announced a trip to Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt to discuss when to present the Trump administration’s Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, as well as the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip.

A senior administration official told The Times of Israel the trip is an opportunity to “discuss the situation in Gaza and to discuss the next stages of the peace effort, as well as get some ideas from players in the region about some remaining questions the White House peace team has.”

Qatar has long been accused of being a key financier of Hamas, the Islamist terror group that rules the Gaza Strip, including by Israeli and Saudi officials. Qatar has denied this affiliation.

The dates of Kushner and Greenblatt’s visits to the Arab nations are not yet known, but the US officials will be in Israel Friday, June 22 through Saturday, June 23.

Their tour of the region comes amid a nadir in relations between the United States and the Palestinians. The Palestinian Authority has refused to speak to administration officials since the US recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last December and subsequently relocated the US embassy to the city last month.

US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and US President Donald Trump’s daughter and adviser Ivanka Trump unveil the inauguration plaque during the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem on May 14, 2018. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)

Adding to the tensions, Greenblatt is mired in a spat with longtime top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, who earlier this week accused the US envoy of parroting right-wing Israeli views.

Thus far no meetings have been scheduled between the two envoys and Palestinians, but an unnamed US official told Channel 10 that the pair would be open to meeting with PA representatives, if they were willing to engage.

Kushner and Greenblatt’s latest visit also comes after weeks of deadly violence along the Gaza border, with tens of thousands of Palestinians taking part in the ongoing Hamas-backed “March of Return” protests at the border.

Gaza faces shortages of electricity and drinkable water. Israel and Egypt maintain a blockade on the Strip that they say is designed to prevent the Hamas from importing weapons and other goods that could be used to build military equipment or cross-border tunnels.

The deteriorating living conditions have been cited by security officials as a major factor fueling the violent clashes on Israel’s border, as well as a debilitating sense of desperation.

A US official told Channel 10 this week that the White House has no clear plan for resolving the humanitarian situation in the coastal enclave and was seeking solutions from Israeli officials and others in the region.

On Friday, the White House said Kushner, Greenblatt and US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley met with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, to discuss the Trump administration’s peace efforts in the Middle East and ways to improve conditions in Gaza.

Israel has said the humanitarian situation will not improve until Hamas returns the bodies of two IDF soldiers and the two civilian captives it holds. It blames Hamas for the dire reality, charging the terror group with diverting millions in aid to purchase weapons, dig tunnels, manufacture rockets and train its military wing, instead of using it for the welfare of the people.

Palestinian children carry water bottles in the al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City on January 4, 2018. ( AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED ABED)

Gaza’s woes have been exacerbated by an ongoing dispute between Hamas and the rival Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, which has cut the salaries it pays to workers in Gaza and imposed various sanctions, including cutting payments for electricity supplies to the enclave.

Since Trump assumed office in January 2017, he’s claimed to be vigorously committed to achieving a comprehensive peace accord between the sides, often calling it the “the ultimate deal.”

The last time formal peace talks took place between Israel and the Palestinians was four years ago, when then US Secretary of State John Kerry initiated negotiations under a nine-month timeline. Those efforts fell apart in April 2014 and have been moribund ever since.

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