WASHINGTON – On Dec. 6, 2017, United States President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel when Middle East analyst Aaron Miller’s phone rang.
It was Jared Kusher, Trump’s adviser and son-in-law, and he wanted to discuss a plan for the Middle East that would be impossible for any Israeli minister to reject.
Kushner had taken it upon himself to take on the mother of all conflicts in the Middle East, the more than seven-decades old dispute between Israelis and Palestinians, and he carried out a round of consultations with experts and former mediators.
“I got back to my office when the phone rang and it was Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt on the phone, wanting to talk to me, and I said, and I listened for about 25 minutes and they laid out for me the three or four assumptions on which their approach would be based,” says Miller, an analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think tank and former adviser to several Republican and Democrat secretaries of state.
“The assumptions were the assumptions that remain valid today.”
The first of those principles was that “they would make it impossible for any Israeli prime minister to say no to the president and by that he meant that the terms of any deal would be very pro-Israeli.”
They also wanted to establish close links to Saudi Arabia to promote ties between the countries of the Persian Gulf and Israel and “that the Saudis could be used to pressure the Palestinians, which has not been the case.”
Finally, Kushner and Greenblatt noted that “the Palestinians needed to understand that they were not in the strongest position,” Miller adds.
This was the first in-depth conversation Miller had in 2017 and 2018 with Kushner, whose team took three years to develop the Peace to Prosperity plan, a 180-page document on how to solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict released in its entirety in January.
During those consultations, Miller gleaned that the plan was reliant on no external events undermining Trump’s policies.
“I have worked for half a dozen secretaries of state in six administrations and I have never seen one whose foreign policy is more linked to their domestic political interests,” the former deputy Middle East coordinator during Bill Clinton’s Administration says.
According to Miller, the plan routed US policies to date over the conflict, eliminating what previous administrations had backed such as the creation of a Palestinian state and instead realigning the plan to appease the goals of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
During his conversation with Kushner, Miller relayed the lessons he had learned over the years, such as that his was an “impossible” mission and the fallacy of ignoring the past or becoming “Israel’s lawyer.”
The second tip “that’s probably the only piece of advice he took” Miller laughs wryly, “that is to say, I told him not to ignore the past. He looked at it and did the exact opposite.”
At one point, Kushner asked him what it would mean to be successful.
“I told him that Israelis, Palestinians, Americans, Europeans, the international community look at the plan and say, you know, there are things in here we don’t like. But we have to credit the Trump administration. They’ve made an honest effort to acknowledge what the issues are to put proposals on the table that could begin to near gaps between the two sides,” Miller says.
Kushner’s team has laid out a plan for Israelis and Palestinians “with a lot of help from an outside mediator” to negotiate and find a solution but “obviously, they did not succeed.”
Launching talks between the two parties is more than improbable, if not impossible, given the current conditions.
Especially given Israel’s plan starting on July 1 to annex parts of the West Bank.
Dalia Dassa Kaye, director of RAND Center for Middle East Public Policy, says that unfortunately Trump’s plan launched a debate on annexation rather than a dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians.
“You cannot promote peace in the region by reaching an agreement between the US and Israel. It’s an absurd situation and it’s difficult to see any Palestinian taking the Trump plan as a serious basis for negotiation,” she tells EFE.
The US-backed plan also has an economic section, which draws from ideas the World Bank and RAND have been working on for years but which Kaye thinks will be difficult to apply.
The policy expert says no one on Kushner’s team has contacted her organization “it is correct, however, that over the last decade RAND produced a series of reports that considered what would be required to establish a viable Palestinian state.”
“This research included a proposal called ‘the Arc’ that envisioned an infrastructure corridor connecting West Bank cities as well as the West Bank to Gaza,” she continues.
Her organization’s work assumed there could be a two-state solution deal before those development and infrastructure projects were possible.
“Trump plan does not offer a path toward a viable Palestinian state, and without a mutually agreed political settlement such infrastructure plans are not viable,” Kaye adds.
Instead, the plan is seen in the region as “the most pro-Israel plan in the history of the conflict and a plan that is perceived to give Israel a green light to annexing territories unilaterally in a further blow to the possibility of a two-state solution,” she concludes.