US plan will not follow lines of Arab Peace Initiative, Kushner says

Ahead of Bahrain meeting, US adviser says proposal will fall somewhere between Saudi-initiated 2002 offer and Israeli stance

President Donald Trump's senior adviser, and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, departs the Capitol after a meeting with Senate Republicans, in Washington, Tuesday, May 14, 2019. (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)
President Donald Trump's senior adviser, and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, departs the Capitol after a meeting with Senate Republicans, in Washington, Tuesday, May 14, 2019. (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

A US proposal for Israeli-Palestinian peace will not follow the contours of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, senior White House adviser Jared Kushner said in comments published Monday, offering a rare glimpse of the political side of the administration’s yet-to-be-released peace plan.

“I think we all have to recognize that if there ever is a deal, it’s not going to be along the lines of the Arab peace initiative,” Kushner told Qatari network al-Jazeera. “It will be somewhere between the Arab peace initiative and between the Israeli position.”

The comments, published hours before Kushner is set to open a controversial economic workshop in Bahrain that has drawn only middling support from most Arab states, would mark a sharp departure from what many view as the outline of a future Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

First proposed by Saudi Arabia in 2002, the initiative calls for full normalization with Israel across the Arab world in exchange for a Palestinian state on the whole of the West Bank and Gaza — with agreed upon land swaps — and East Jerusalem as its capital. It also calls for an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, territory Syria claims, and which the US recognized Israeli sovereignty over earlier this year.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas promotes the Arab Peace Initiative during a speech at the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa in Jordan, May 26, 2013 (photo credit: AP/Jim Young)

The proposal has been adopted by the Arab League and drew lukewarm support from the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations, as well as from some Israeli leaders, who saw it as a starting point for negotiations.

In 2016, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu endorsed the general idea behind the initiative.

“There are positive aspects and negative aspects to it,” he told Israeli diplomatic correspondents at a rare on-record briefing at the time. “This initiative is 13 years old, and the situation in the Middle East has changed since it was first proposed. But the general idea — to try and reach understandings with leading Arab countries — is a good idea.”

Netanyahu has pushed for Arab states to normalize relations with Israel as a prelude to a peace deal with the Palestinians, though most have rejected the idea.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R), US National Security Advisor John Bolton (C) and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman tour the Jordan Valley on June 23, 2019. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

The prime minister has also repeatedly noted security concerns as a cornerstone of any agreement that Israel would consider. On Sunday, he toured the West Bank’s Jordan Valley with US envoy Davd Friedman and Trump National Security Adviser John Bolton and vowed to hold on to the strip of land as a security asset.

The Bahrain summit Tuesday was originally slated to feature Israeli officials alongside Arab ones, but in the end only Israeli business people were invited, underlining skittishness in many capitals across the Middle East of being seen working hand in hand with Israel.

Kushner, who is US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and has headed up peace negotiation efforts, has in the past made oblique reference to the Arab Peace Initiative and other past peace bids as “failed” ideas.

“If that was where a deal was going to be made, a deal would have been made a long time ago,” he told al-Jazeera, though he called the initiative “a great effort.”

The comments came in response to a question about whether the US could still back a two-state solution after seemingly offering support for a proposal by Netanyahu to possibly extend Israeli sovereignty to West Bank settlements.

An illustrative photo of the construction of new houses in the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, on September 25, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Breaking with decades of US policy, the administration has refused to endorse a two-state solution, a goal long viewed by many as the only viable way to secure lasting peace.

On Saturday, Kushner unveiled the first part of the administration’s peace plan, an economic white paper that calls for $50 billion in investments in project mean to boost the Palestinian economy. But critics say the plan goes too far in decoupling Palestinian financial issues from the political context and papers over Israeli restrictions which stunt economic growth and Palestinian national aspirations.

A Palestinian man burns a photo of US President Donald Trump and King Hamad al-Khalifa of Bahrain during protests against a US-led meeting this week in the Gulf kingdom on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, in the village of Halhul, near the West Bank city of Hebron on June 24, 2019 (HAZEM BADER / AFP)

The Palestinians have rejected the proposal and refused to send a representative to the Manama summit. They say a political solution must first be hammered out before economic issues should come to the table.

“The workshop was meant to address the economic problems, but the real problem is the political one,”Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Sunday. “The Palestinians are seeking an entity, statehood, and after that we look at the economy.”

Kushner said he hoped to be able to roll out the political aspect of the plan soon.

“We’ve been working very carefully on a very detailed proposal for what we think can help bring this conflict, which has been stuck, forward and we’re hopeful that we’ll be able to put that out soon and hopefully parties will be responsible, they’ll engage on it and they’ll try to move forward,” he told al-Jazeera.

The network said Kushner’s full interview would be published Tuesday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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