Jared Kushner travels to Middle East to try to strike semblance of peace deal ahead of election

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The goal is to give the Eleventh Hour some grandeur, announce a rare foreign policy victory, and help bolster President Donald Trump’s reelection efforts in November.

Several diplomatic and congressional sources told CNN that Kushner was courting several Arab countries to pledge to attend a ceremony in Washington and that the push was part of his trip to the region. They include Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain and Oman, according to two of those sources. Some of those countries are considering whether to make the trip and considering who they would send, the sources said.

In addition to wanting to formalize the UAE-Israel deal and guarantee the grand ceremony that Trump has envisioned, Kushner. who is the president’s son-in-law, is also using the trip, along with other senior U.S. officials, to pursue a series of normalization deals between Israel and various Arab nations and step up efforts to counter Iran.

Kushner’s name and reputation have been inextricably linked to the failed Middle East peace plan since the administration was in its infancy. Ivanka Trump told the Republican National Convention Thursday night that her father had defied “all expectations” and “rewrote history again by reaching a Middle East peace deal, the biggest breakthrough in a quarter of a century” as her husband smiled in the audience.

Kushner is widely seen as having failed in his efforts to resolve the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but there is hope that these efforts could help resurrect his reputation as a diplomat. Its task is daunting, however, and there is skepticism from several sources that new normalization agreements can be reached between Israel and other Arab states. There are also complications that will need to be resolved regarding the deal with the UAE.But it is significant that Kushner heads a delegation that includes National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien, outgoing US Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook, Special Representative for International Negotiations Avi Berkowitz and senior Council officials. national security Miguel Correa and Rob Greenway, according to a senior White House official.

Although Kushner had no foreign policy experience before his stepfather appointed him, diplomatic circles are largely convinced that Kushner is the only person truly capable of influencing the unpredictable US president.

A senior administration official stressed the importance of Kushner leading a delegation that includes the president’s national security adviser. “(John) Bolton and (HR) McMaster would not have accepted this,” said this person, referring to O’Brien’s predecessors under Trump. “Jared is running the show. “

Focus on Iran

The administration’s approach involves a shift in focus, from the goal of establishing peace between Israelis and Palestinians to creating a regional coalition among a somewhat haphazard group of nations, aimed at thwarting the Iranian aggression.

The fragile normalization deal between the world’s new indicator allies Israel and the United Arab Emirates – united in their mutual disregard for Tehran and close ties to Trump’s White House – is being used as a model for other countries. The hope, according to two US officials and two foreign officials, is that in the short term Bahrain, Oman, Sudan and Morocco will follow. Representatives of these countries did not respond to a request for comment.

Normalization for this particular group of countries is not an effort, as most have at least had secret ties with Israel for years and have become increasingly tolerant of Israel as a regional trading partner. and major power in the region.

Kushner will tell various nations that an anti-Iran coalition is their best bet and an effective insurance policy if former vice president and Democratic hopeful Joe Biden wins the presidential election, several US and foreign officials say .

The Trump delegation will first stop in Israel for meetings, after which it will escort a number of Israeli government experts from various sectors on Monday on the first-ever commercial flight from Tel Aviv to Abu Dhabi, the capital of the Arab Emirates. united, a senior White House official. official told CNN. Other stops include Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and possibly Oman and Morocco, the official said.

Ties between Washington, Israel and the Arab Gulf countries strained under former President Barack Obama over the nuclear deal with Iran, which those countries saw as a way to empower Tehran. Since taking office, Trump has withdrawn the United States from the nuclear deal and has worked to restore relations with Israel and the oil-rich Arab Gulf Sheikhs.

But Iran’s aggression, and the potential for resuming nuclear talks under a Biden administration, is not the only incentive for these countries to throw caution to the wind and normalize their relations with Israel.

Aid to peace

One of Israel’s leading newspapers claimed this month that there was a “secret clause” in Israel’s deal to normalize relations with the UAE – one that would allow the UAE to buy billions of dollars. advanced military hardware in the United States, including drones, F -35 stealth fighters, and other weapons.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu initially criticized reports of a possible deal on a stealth fighter as “totally false information.” But Kushner said in an interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria last Sunday that the standards deal “should increase the likelihood” of a sale of F-35 planes to the United Arab Emirates.

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Administration officials and experts agree that countries like Bahrain, Oman, Sudan and Morocco are intrigued by the discussions on military and economic aid for peace and may be drawn to such a proposal.

The concept of aid to peace is not new. U.S. aid to Egypt has always been conditioned on its obligations under the 1979 Camp David Treaty, which ended three decades of sporadic wars with Israel. While relations between the two countries have faltered, with particularly low points since the overthrow of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, this funding was seen as one of the main guarantees of the treaty.

Likewise, Jordan’s efforts to begin peace talks with Israel in 1994 came, in part, in the hope that Israel might compel Washington to resume military aid and spare parts as well as the delivery of ‘a squadron of F-16 jet fighters for the Royal Jordanian Air. Force.

But several administration officials and congressional aides to the GOP told CNN that Kushner’s ability to make guarantees about military aid is questionable, especially since these issues in particular go through a robust and interagency process. are usually also approved by Congress.

Bumps in the road

While the hope is that these other countries can agree to establish formal diplomatic relations with Israel, the likelihood of getting there before election day remains uncertain. Sudan publicly rejected the idea ahead of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit this week, saying it does not have a mandate to continue normalization with Israel.

Moroccan Prime Minister Saad Dine El Otmani also told reporters this week that “we reject any normalization with the Zionist entity because it encourages it to go further in violating the rights of the Palestinian people.”

Administration officials have admitted that the situation is too fluid and that the hope of reaching additional agreements remains uncertain to say the least.

Even the agreement between the United Arab Emirates and Israel seemed to clash almost as soon as it was announced. The two countries issued an avalanche of conflicting statements about the impact of the agreement on the Palestinians, who saw the announcement as a sign of declining support among their Arab compatriots.

UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed said on Twitter that an agreement has been reached to stop Israel’s continued annexation of the Palestinian territories, a threat Netanyahu has pledged to carry out this year. But later, in a televised speech, Netanyahu confirmed that his annexation plans had only been “temporarily suspended,” adding that he was “still determined” to annex parts of the West Bank.

Omar Ghobash, a senior minister in the UAE government, later confirmed that “we have no guarantee as such” of Israel that it will not annex the occupied Palestinian territory in the future.

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