US team preparing 'ultimate deal' for Middle East peace

WASHINGTON • United States President Donald Trump and his advisers have begun developing their own concrete blueprint to end the decades-old conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, a plan intended to go beyond previous frameworks offered by the US government in pursuit of what the President calls "the ultimate deal".

After 10 months of studying the complexities of the world's most intractable dispute, White House officials said, Mr Trump's team of relative newcomers to Middle East peacemaking has moved into a new phase of its venture, in hopes of transforming what it has learnt into tangible steps to end a stalemate that has frustrated even presidents with more experience in the region.

The prospects for peace are caught up in a web of other issues consuming the region, as demonstrated in recent days by Saudi Arabia's growing confrontation with Iranian-backed Hizbollah in Lebanon. Israel is likewise worried about Hizbollah, as well as efforts by Iran to establish a land corridor across southern Syria. If a war with Hizbollah breaks out, it could scuttle any initiative with the Palestinians.

Although Mr Trump has not committed to a Palestinian state, analysts anticipated that the plan will have to be built around the two-state solution that has been the core of peacemaking efforts for years.

"We have spent a lot of time listening to and engaging with the Israelis, Palestinians and key regional leaders over the past few months to help reach an enduring peace deal," said the President's chief negotiator Jason Greenblatt.

"We are not going to put an artificial timeline on the development or presentation of any specific ideas, and will also never impose a deal. Our goal is to facilitate, not dictate, a lasting peace agreement to improve the lives of Israelis and Palestinians and security across the region."

Mr Trump, who considers himself a dealmaker, decided to adopt the challenge when he took office in January, intrigued at the idea of succeeding where other presidents have failed, and he assigned the effort to Mr Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and senior adviser.

The core four-member team comprises Mr Kushner, Mr Greenblatt, deputy national adviser Dina Powell and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman. Officials said the effort may take until early next year.

Mr Dennis Ross, a veteran Middle East peace negotiator, said Mr Trump's team has "done a very good job of presenting themselves as having listened" and is now "taken seriously" in the region.

"If you simply resume negotiations and nothing accompanies it, nobody will take it seriously," he said. "People will say we've seen this movie before. You have to show people - no, something is different this time."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 13, 2017, with the headline 'US team preparing 'ultimate deal' for Middle East peace'. Subscribe