President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, might have to shelve his long-awaited plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace due to a dispute in Jerusalem that’s put Benjamin Netanyahu’s political future at stake.
The Israeli prime minister faces a midnight deadline to form a coalition government after seemingly emerging victorious in the April 9 parliamentary elections. He has so far been unable to come to a power-sharing agreement with any other party or faction.
Kushner has kept his peace plan under wraps to avoid complicating those negotiations, but Netanyahu’s struggle could trigger a new round of elections and leave the prime minister in an interim capacity for much of 2019, just as Kushner hoped to unveil his proposal.
“I think it makes it extremely difficult for him to roll it out,” Jonathan Schanzer, a vice president at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which has worked closely with the administration on Middle East issues, told the Washington Examiner. “Not impossible, but extremely difficult. Because any agreement that Netanyahu might agree to would lack the support of the Israeli electorate.”
Kushner’s previous statements suggest he agrees. The senior White House adviser is expected to unveil a plan favorable to Israel by the standards of past peace talks. Trump has already moved the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, two historic gestures that shift territorial disputes in Netanyahu’s favor. Yet Kushner delayed revealing his plan to avoid complicating Netanyahu’s path to electoral victory and the talks to form a new government.
“He’ll build, hopefully, a strong coalition, and we’ll work with him to see what we can do,” Kushner said at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy earlier this month. “I think both leaderships are probably a little bit nervous to talk about what their potential compromise solutions could be,” he added, referring to Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
That kind of rhetoric has caused some of Trump’s allies to suspect that Kushner plans to ask Netanyahu to make unpalatable concessions in Jerusalem or the West Bank, Palestinian-controlled territory that has seen an expansion of Israeli settlements.
“Any notion that Israel’s security would be enhanced by the surrendering of any land — I mean, that’s nonsense,” Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, a prominent evangelical with close ties to the administration, told the Washington Examiner.
Perkins has been urging Trump administration officials to shelve Kushner’s effort until after the 2020 elections. “The president has his highest approval rating, as it pertains to Israel among evangelicals, that he’s ever had,” Perkins said. “He’s done all the right things. I don’t think he needs to do anything to jeopardize that right now.”
Those criticisms from the American Right mirror the pressure Netanyahu is under from a faction of the Israeli Right. The prime minister, who appeared to be in a strong position after the April elections gave right-wing parties a convincing majority over their center-left rivals, has fallen into a deadlock with his former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Lieberman, who resigned from Netanyahu’s cabinet last year over a dispute about counter-terrorism policies, refuses to join a coalition unless the new government strips ultra-Orthodox Jewish men of their exemption from military service, but the ultra-Orthodox wing won’t agree to a coalition on those terms. Netanyahu attempted to sidestep the dispute by offering to share power with left-wing politicians, but those rivals announced Wednesday they “will not be Netanyahu’s life jacket.”
If the midnight deadline passes without a deal, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin could ask another lawmaker to attempt to form a government. Netanyahu and his allies are trying to thwart that possibility by passing a bill to dissolve the Knesset, which would mean a new election called just seven weeks after the last one and possibly no government formed until November.
“At a minimum, this would mean that the administration’s peace plan would be delayed once again,” Jim Phillips, a regional expert at the Heritage Foundation, told the Washington Examiner.
Kushner might not have that much time to make a serious diplomatic push. He is traveling through the region this week to drum up interest in the agreement ahead of a June conference in Bahrain focused on his scheme’s economic elements. Putting those plans on hold until the end of the year would mean unveiling a potentially controversial proposal with Trump’s reelection campaign in full swing.
Past administrations have avoided presenting proposals during Israeli elections “because an inherent part of their peace plan was pressuring Israel to make concessions, and they didn’t want to do that,” Phillips said. “But I’m not sure that that same logic holds for the Trump administration because it’s unlikely that Kushner’s plan would impose unacceptable concessions on a Netanyahu-led government. And so they may go ahead with it anyway.”