Jared Kushner is at the center of the most disruptive American presidency in centuries. So it is something of a surprise that his approach to the Middle East peace process, which is just one of his many responsibilities, is so conventional.
Kushner discussed his efforts at length on Sunday at the Saban Forum, organized by the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, speaking opposite sponsor (and Clinton ally) Haim Saban.
The past quarter-century is littered with failed efforts at brokering peace between Israelis and Palestinians. The most prosaic way to explain those failures is to note that the minimum that Palestinians want has always been greater than the maximum that Israelis have been willing, or able, to give. The Palestinians have also supported terrorism against Israeli civilians, and continue to raise new generations of children to fight Israel and hate Jews.
The repeated mistake of American administrations, both Republican and Democrat, has been to approach the impasse by pressuring Israel to make further concessions. The Trump administration seemed prepared to try a different and bolder approach: namely, to show the Palestinians that in the absence of negotiations, Israel would receive more of what it wanted, not less: an embassy in Jerusalem, for example, or sovereignty in the West Bank.
And, indeed, in February, President Trump indicated that the U.S. was prepared to drop the two-state solution, The administration continues to flirt with moving the embassy, as the world awaits a speech Wednesday in which Trump is expected to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. And the administration has welcomed the Taylor Force Act, which will cut taxpayer funds to the Palestinian Authority as long as it pays stipends to terrorists and their families.
But there is one crucial sense in which the Trump administration has been like all of its recent predecessors, and that is in its enthusiasm to reach a deal between the two sides. For Trump, an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement represents a kind of personal challenge to achieve “the ultimate deal.” To that end, he has made concessions to Palestinan leaders, squandering the leverage he had when he shocked them, and the world, by wining in 2016.
Kushner’s remarks at the Saban Forum did not offer much hope for a departure from that conventional, and failed, model. Even more curious was his decision to speak at that particular venue. Saban, representing not only the political opposition but also the foreign policy establishment, was dripping with condescension, mocking Kusher’s team of Orthodox Jews and real estate lawyers, with not a Middle East policy “macher” (big shot) among them.
Saban argued that one thing Trump and Kushner had done differently was to adopt an “outside-in” approach, where improved relations between Israel and regional Arab states would create more pressure on the Palestinians to reach a deal. Surprisingly, Kushner pushed back (mildly), suggesting that “we have to overcome this issue of the Israeli-Palestinian issue” before a broader regional alliance can take shape. In other words: a reversion to the failed norm.
Perhaps Kushner is offering a decoy, nodding demurely towards the status quo while President Trump himself undermines it with bold gestures. But his very presence at the Saban Forum was a gesture towards the bipartisan consensus that has failed to bring peace, and has rewarded Israeli concessions with terror. One hopes that Trump himself has something more dramatic in mind, lest his presidency, in this respect, another missed opportunity.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named one of the “most influential” people in news media in 2016. He is the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.