This week the New York Times and other American news outlets reported that president-elect Trump appointed his son-in-law Mr. Jared Kushner to serve as a Senior Adviser in the White House. For those who follow the news surrounding the formation of the Trump White House team, it is evident that Mr. Kushner has been Mr. Trump’s most trusted and closest adviser and surely will enjoy an unlimited access to the Oval Office.
In an interview that was aired by PBS on January 9, 2017, Ms. Kellyanne Conway, Mr. Trump’s Senior Counsel-designate was visibly uncomfortable when asked about Mr. Kushner’s future involvement in the overall White House operations. Clearly, one could not escape the undercurrent of power plays that typify every administration since the founding of the Union. Nepotism, or at least the appearance thereof, is nothing new – President Kennedy appointed his brother as Attorney General. But more specifically, knowing that Mr. Kushner “has the ear” of his father-in-law and the trust bestowed on him by the president-elect, she knows that notwithstanding her demonstrated devotion to Mr. Trump, Mr. Kushner can easily bring about her demise. Undoubtedly she recalls how Mr. Kushner effectively and swiftly removed the New Jersey governor Chris Christy from the transition team and from any further consideration in the future Trump administration. Mr. Christy’s “devotion” to Mr. Trump and his relentless campaigning on his behalf could not overcome the “La Familia”. By removing Christy Mr. Kushner did not need to mince words demonstrating where power lies in the Trump White House. She, and everyone else at the Trump administration, should be very careful – Mr. Kushner can be a formidable and ruthless opponent.
So what are Mr. Kushner’s qualifications that could be considered pivotal in bringing about a solution to the age-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict? First and foremost are his absolute trust of the president-elect and his unhindered access to the Oval Office at any time. Unlike everyone else, he will not need to arrange for an appointment, he will not need to work with the Chief of Staff or with any Senior Counsel – they all will need to be at his side if they wish to maintain their positions. As evident by Mr. Trump’s unpredictability during the campaign and later during the transition period, whatever everyone’s opinion may be, it will be scrutinized by Mr. Kushner and accepted by the president only with Mr. Kushner’s blessing.
On the surface, a cursory examination of some other qualification that Mr. Kushner may possess indicates that his knowledge and understanding of the complicated circumstances across the Middle East, and particularly the labyrinth of Israeli-Palestinian conflict, may be limited at best. One may claim that being a religious Jew allows him to intimately understand the ancient biblical connection of the Jewish religion and its believers to Eretz Yisrael. Indeed, there is a considerable level of truth in that claim. Mr. Kushner is well-versed in the relevant prayers and biblical stories. But what about the Arab population of the West Bank? Does he understand their history, their religions, and their national aspirations? After all, the Palestinians are human beings just like the Jews and they too have a long history of ties to that same land.
Moreover, does Mr. Kushner understands the complexities of the United States foreign policies as they apply to various regions of the globe? The notion that US concerns in the Middle East, including Israel’s wellbeing, can be applied somehow separately from policies that are relevant to other global regions is misleading at best and could have disastrous consequences at worst. Mr. Kushner will have to come to grips with issues that go well beyond any real estate deal he may have managed, regardless how successfully pulled together. Does Mr. Kushner understands the intricacies of the Israeli political scenarios? Being Jewish may help initially since he and the Israelis generally share the same prayer books and observe the same Jewish holidays. But, as the old saying goes: “a discussion between two Jews yields three opinions”. Dr. Kissinger, whose experience in Middle Eastern issues is beyond doubts, may attest to that.
Even many Israelis have a hard time understanding the internal politics and the forces that shape the Israeli Knesset and government. The writer does not claim any specific knowledge or understanding beyond what is reported by news organizations and their commentators. The likelihood that Mr. Kushner’s understanding of the Israeli politics and the fabric of the Israeli society exceeds that of experts such as Dr. Kissinger or Mr. Brzezinski seems to be low. By the same token, does Mr. Kushner understands the political undercurrents of the Palestinian society across the West Bank? Does he understands the Arab fabric of society?
Any future deal that could be considered even remotely acceptable to both sides must be equitable to both sides in significant ways. This is a simple common sense. A no-brainer as it is referred to in America. But of equal importance, any such deal must not be at odds with the broader US interests across the region and its approach to global concerns and must pass the “honest broker” test. It has been a long-standing US policy that any deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians must be the fruits of direct negotiations, not the outcome of an imposed solution. Mr. Netanyahu affirms this time and again.
During his campaign Mr. Trump repeatedly voiced his desire to be the president who will finally bring peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The president who will achieve that elusive agreement. Unfortunately, it appears that the US “Middle East team” consisting of Mr. Kushner, the Ambassador-designate Mr. Friedman and his designated boss Mr. Tillerson (assuming they sail through the confirmation hearings) is more likely to fail than to deliver. None could be considered as “honest brokers” and will likely, judging by what is known about their backgrounds and public comments, exhibit varying levels of bias towards Israel.
At this point in time the above is still speculative and we all may be pleasantly surprised. In that case, Mr. Trump will be able to add another trophy to his fireplace mantle: a Nobel Prize for Peace. A real and tangible peace that is anchored in a widely acceptable agreement between longtime foes, not the kind of “peace” for which President Obama received his prize.