J & J in Jerusalem

Jewish Light Editorial

Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and chief Middle East adviser, and administration negotiator Jason Greenblatt, formally entered the shark tank of Middle East peace efforts last week, for talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

While their initial trip to Jerusalem and Ramallah is promising, the White House will have to continue intense talks, not just brief drop-ins, if it wants to achieve the breakthrough that has eluded would-be peace brokers for so long.

The pair at first seemed to have accomplished little beyond a perfunctory testing of the waters.  But a closer reading of news reports from the talks indicates an abrupt change from the overly cautious and often icy relationship between Jerusalem and former President Barack Obama.

On the eve of the talks, the Israeli Housing Ministry announced approval of 7,000 new apartment units in areas of the West Bank claimed by the Palestinian Authority. This move came despite Trump’s personal appeal to Netanyahu during their Washington meeting to “stop the settlement building for awhile.”

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At the same time, Kushner and Greenblatt’s meetings with Abbas were described in a Times of Israel report as having “enraged” Abbas. Abbas reportedly accused the United States delegation of being “mouthpieces for Israel,” and he categorically refused to stop payments to some 600 Palestinian terrorists serving life terms in Israeli prisons for murder.

But Radio Israel, citing Arabic media, reported that the U.S. delegation had in fact “watered down” its original demand that the Palestinian Authority halt all such payments and modified it to include only those prisoners who are responsible for the deaths of Israelis.

Abbas, according to the Times of Israel, defended his payments to Palestinian prisoners, including convicted terrorists, as a “social responsibility.” He added that Israel was using the issue as a pretext to avoid peace talks. 

Far from being a bland “exploratory” trip, the first trip to the Middle East by Kushner and Greenblatt was often combative and uncharacteristically held Abbas to account for his failure to keep his long-ignored promise to end incitement against Israel.  For its part, Israel prompted legitimate concerns with the ill-timed announcement of a major construction project overlapping the Green Line.

It is clear that the team of J & J, as some Israeli pundits have called Kushner and Greenblatt, has a lot of work ahead. They deserve credit for wading into the deep water of diplomacy on their maiden voyage to that troubled region. Now, they must keep it up.