JERUSALEM (AFP) – White House aide Jared Kushner held talks on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Thursday (Aug 24) with the aim of restarting long-stalled peace efforts, but pessimism was high over US President Donald Trump’s pledge to reach the “ultimate deal”.
The visit came with both Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not in position to make major concessions, some analysts said, and no details have emerged of how Trump’s team would overcome that.
Trump also faces a range of crises in addition to controversies at home that may make it difficult for him to focus on the complexities of a major Israeli-Palestinian peace push.
“We have a lot of things to talk about – how to advance peace, stability and security in our region, prosperity too,” Netanyahu said in brief public remarks as he met Kushner in Tel Aviv.
“And I think all of them are within our reach.”
Kushner, who is also Trump’s son-in-law, said: “The president is very committed to achieving a solution here that will be able to bring prosperity and peace to all people in this area.”
A statement from Netanyahu’s office later described the talks with the US delegation as “constructive and substantive”, without adding further details.
“The prime minister looks forward to continuing those discussions in the weeks ahead,” it said.
The US delegation was to meet Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Thursday evening. A spokesman for Abbas called the meeting “important and crucial”.
A US official said earlier that Trump “remains optimistic that progress toward a deal can be achieved”.
The visit is part of a regional tour by Kushner, Trump aide Jason Greenblatt and Deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell.
They have also held talks with Egyptian, Saudi, Emirati, Qatari and Jordanian officials.
“I think (the Israeli-Palestinian conflict) clearly remains important, important enough that senior officials continue to engage on it, including Jared Kushner,” Dan Shapiro, US ambassador to Israel under Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama, told journalists this week.
“But given the very poor prospects of a significant political breakthrough, I’d be surprised it if warrants a major investment by the president.”
Palestinian leaders have grown frustrated with the White House after initially holding out hope that Trump could bring a fresh approach to peace efforts despite his pledges of staunch support for Israel.
Trump aides have held a series of meetings with both sides, portraying them as hearing out concerns before deciding on a way forward, while the US president himself visited Israel and the Palestinian territories in May.
But Palestinian leaders note that the White House has not even clearly said whether it will aim for a two-state solution to the conflict, which has been longstanding US policy.
The two-state solution envisions an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel, a concept which has been the focus of international diplomacy since at least the early 1990s.
When Trump met Netanyahu at the White House in February, he said he would support a single state if it led to peace, delighting right-wing Israelis who want to annex most of the West Bank, but raising deep concern among Palestinians.
Signalling their frustration, some Palestinian leaders have spoken of taking a harder line in recent days.
DISSOLVE THE PA?
Ahmed Majdalani, a senior Palestinian Liberation Organisation official who is close to Abbas, told AFP on Thursday that one option if no progress is reached would be to dissolve the Palestinian Authority – a threat that has been made in the past.
That would in theory leave Israel with the responsibility of governing and providing services to Palestinian cities in the occupied West Bank.
But at the same time, Majdalani said they could also unilaterally declare Palestinian statehood.
He said that option was under consideration because “the American administration has not presented any initiative until now, while the Israelis continue with their settlement activities and refuse to abide by obligations they signed up to.”
A couple of dozen Palestinians protested Kushner’s visit on Thursday in Ramallah, burning the Israeli flag and pictures of Trump.
Netanyahu, for his part, is under pressure from his rightwing base not to make concessions to the Palestinians and to continue Jewish settlement building. There is little incentive at the moment for him to change course, some analysts say.
He is also facing a graft investigation that limits his room for political manoeuvre, Shapiro noted.
Shapiro, now a fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies think-tank in Tel Aviv, said the focus should instead be on short-term goals such as improving the Palestinian economy in order to keep the possibility of a two-state solution alive.
“I believe (Trump’s) leverage has declined considerably, at least from the point of view of getting major concessions or a commitment to a major programme toward two states from the leaders, so that’s why I think the shift should come to the more practical on-the-ground steps,” he said.