May 30, 2019
By Maayan Lubell
JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Three important players in U.S. President Donald Trump’s long-delayed Middle East peace plan met in Jerusalem on Thursday, but gave no hint about whether its rollout would be further postponed by Israel’s political turmoil.
Trump’s adviser Jared Kushner and U.S. Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a visit to the region to drum up support for an economic conference in Bahrain in late June.
The Trump administration has said it expects to use the Bahrain meeting to unveil the first – economic – stage of its proposal to solve the Israel-Palestinian conflict, an initiative Trump has called the “Deal of the Century”.
But Kushner and Greenblatt arrived in Israel just as the country found itself heading for a second election in six months after Netanyahu failed to put together a governing coalition following an April ballot. Israeli lawmakers voted to dissolve parliament on Thursday, paving the way for a new election on Sept. 17.
Netanyahu sought to play down the setback, referring only to “a little event last night” during brief joint remarks with Kushner. “That’s not going to stop us – we’re going to keep working together,” he said.
“I’m tremendously encouraged by how the United States, under President Trump, is working to bring allies together in this region against common challenges, but also to seize common opportunities,” he added.
Kushner also made no direct mention of the plan, saying that Israel’s security was critical to Washington and that they were “very excited about the potential that lies ahead for Israel, for the relationship”.
The plan’s rollout was first expected in late 2018 or early 2019, but was postponed to give Netanyahu time to hold the election and form a government. It is now unclear whether they will postpone it again until after the September election.
U.S. officials have been non-committal on the exact timing, except to say it would come after the administration presents the economic portion.
Israelis and Palestinians were quick to point out the potential disruption of a new election.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat joked that the Trump plan was now “the deal of the next century.” Palestinians have been skeptical about the plan even before it is unveiled, believing it will be heavily weighted in Israel’s favor.
In Israel’s liberal daily Haaretz, under the headline “Kushner’s Awful Timing” analyst Amir Tibon wrote that with another election campaign, “the Gulf workshop is no longer on top of anyone’s agenda”.
The June 25-26 Bahrain conference aims to encourage investment in the Palestinian territories by Arab countries, before grappling with the difficult political issues at the heart of the conflict.
The Kushner delegation had visited Morocco and Jordan before heading to Israel. But the Palestinian leadership has refused to deal with the Trump administration since the president recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Hanan Ashrawi, of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, said she believed the conference would proceed but that the political stage would be delayed.
“The American timetable is usually constructed on the basis of the Israeli schedule or the Israeli agenda,” Ashrawi said. “They are buying time for Israel, (while) on the other hand they are actually preventing any serious political initiative to deal with the issues.”
(Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Stephen Farrell and Frances Kerry)