In a speech just before his inauguration, President Trump turned to his son-in-law Jared Kushner and said, “if you can't produce peace in the Middle East, nobody can. All my life I've been hearing that's the toughest deal in the world to make. And I've seen it. But I have a feeling that Jared is going to do a great job." Kushner, it now seems, is not so sure. That’s probably for the best.
Wired on Tuesday published a leaked transcript of a conversation Kushner had with congressional interns about his recent foray into Middle East diplomacy. Kushner is being widely mocked for some of his no-shit-Sherlock observations. He apparently learned after talking to people involved in previous peace negotiations that the reason the Israeli-Palestinian crisis has been so hard to solve is that “this is a very emotionally charged situation.” And given that he’s been involved for about six months on a 50-year-old problem, it’s not exactly encouraging to hear him say, “We don’t want a history lesson. We’ve read enough books.”
Still, it’s good to see that Kushner is at least realistic about the prospects of achieving what his father-in-law calls “the ultimate deal”:
So, what do we offer that's unique? I don’t know. … I’m sure everyone that’s tried this has been unique in some ways, but again we’re trying to follow very logically. We're thinking about what the right end state is. And we’re trying to work with the parties very quietly to see if there's a solution. And there may be no solution, but it’s one of the problem sets that the president asked us to focus on. So we’re going to focus on it and try to come to the right conclusion in the near future.
This is not exactly inspiring talk, but it’s downright refreshing compared with Trump’s blithe confidence in his own negotiating skills. Perhaps Kushner is why the Trump administration’s Israeli-Palestinian policy thus far can best be characterized as “not as bad as it could have been.” The president has avoided any unnecessarily provocative moves, such as his campaign promise to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, and surprised some of his right-wing Israeli admirers by mildly chiding the country’s settlement building. Best of all, the issue has made few appearances on Trump’s Twitter feed.
Kushner and Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt had a rough start: After their first meeting with President Mahmoud Abbas in June, Palestinian officials fumed that they “sounded like Netanyahu's advisers and not like fair arbiters,” and there were reports, denied by the White House, that the administration was giving up Middle East peace efforts entirely.* But Kushner and Greenblatt did seem to play a relatively effective role during a recent crisis in Jerusalem. They reportedly communicated with both Abbas and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss alternative security arrangements after Israel enraged Palestinians, and much of the wider Muslim world, by installing metal detectors at the entrance to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif following the killing of two police officers there. Israel eventually removed the devices and relative calm has returned to the city. Greenblatt also helped mediate a water-sharing deal between Israel and the Palestinian authority this month.
I don’t want to overstate matters: These limited interventions don’t address larger underlying conflict and don’t make an “ultimate deal” any more likely. Jared Kushner is not going to be the man who brings peace to the Middle East. But at least he seems to realize that.
Correction, Aug. 2 2017: This post originally misidentified Jason Greenblatt as Jonathan Greenblatt.