On Friday, a senior White House official confirmed President Trump will be sending three top aides to the Middle East in an effort to restart and hopefully cement Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. The selected trio will meet with leaders from Israel and the Palestinian Authority, as well as officials from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Jordan and Egypt. Dates for the trip have not been publicly announced.
The three aides embarking on the mission to the contested region will be Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt, deputy national security adviser Dina Powell, and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, who is Trump’s son-in-law.
Kushner, Greenblatt, and Powell will hold discussions that will “focus on the path to substantive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, combatting extremism, the situation in Gaza, including how to ease the humanitarian crisis there,” the official said.
The newly announced trip follows an unsuccessful June visit to the Middle East by Kushner and Greenblatt that exposed some definitive issues standing in the way of a potential peace agreement.
Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas was reportedly furious with Kushner after a “tense” meeting. According to reports, the White House aide relayed Israeli demands that the authority stop payments to terrorists and their families. The massive disagreement incited speculative observations that Trump might abandon the Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, though U.S. officials denied those reports at the time.
Trump’s decision to send the aides back to the region is a clear sign he is still interested in seeking a deal that will work. “President Trump has previously noted that achieving an enduring Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement will be difficult but he remains optimistic that peace is possible,” the White House official said. “To enhance the chances for peace, all parties need to engage in creating an environment conducive to peace-making while affording the negotiators and facilitators the time and space they need to reach a deal.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson traveled to the region earlier this summer to try and resolve the conflict but was also unsuccessful. The trio of aides being sent now could hopefully strike a reasonable deal, as well as possibly try to make progress toward ending the escalating conflict between Qatar and its Gulf Arab neighbors.
On June 5, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt severed diplomatic and transport links with Qatar, which is the world leader in liquefied natural gas exports. The alliance contends that Qatar has destabilized the region by supporting proxies of Shiite-dominant Iran and Sunni extremists. Qatar denies the charges.
The U.S. is allied with both sides. The regional headquarters for the U.S. Central Command is located in Qatar, including a state-of-the-art air base utilized by the Pentagon to target ISIS. Saudi Arabia is the top buyer of American weapons and has strong counter-terrorism ties with the U.S.
Central bank Governor Sheikh Abdullah bin Saoud Al Thani said that Qatar has enough cash reserves and assets to withstand the dispute with inflows into the country still exceeding output.
“We have enough cash to preserve any kind of shock,” the governor said. “So, we don’t believe that there is anything to worry about at this moment. What I can say is that our environment is proof to anybody that we are, first of all, solid, strong and resilient against any kind of shocks.”
Earlier in August, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) announced that Kushner has “disqualified himself” from brokering a peace deal in the Middle East because he has already taken Israel’s side.
A leaked audio came out from what was supposed to be a private meeting Kushner had with a group of congressional interns. In the audio, Kushner was heard responding that he was uncertain if it would be possible to find a solution for peace in the Middle East.
“What do we offer that’s unique? I don’t know,” Kushner said, responding to a question about how to achieve peace. “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,” he continued.
The Jerusalem Post reported that PLO executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi responded to Kushner’s leaked statement, saying, “Of course, he’s not qualified because he disqualifies himself.”
Kushner had agreed that the recent crisis over the mosque in East Jerusalem was initiated by the Palestinians, a stance the PLO did not appreciate.
“His talk was really problematic. It betrays not just deep bias but a lack of knowledge of the history itself, and, therefore, of the needs and requirements for a solution,” Ashrawi said.
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