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US’ Kushner makes little headway on Mideast peace plan in Gulf

By Reuters - Feb 27,2019 - Last updated at Feb 27,2019

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, accompanied by Finance Minister Berat Albayrak, meets with US White House adviser Jared Kushner in Ankara, Turkey, on Wednesday (Reuters photo)

BEIRUT/DUBAI — White House adviser Jared Kushner made a whirlwind visit this week to rally US-allied Gulf Arab allies to support his still- unannounced Middle East peace plan, the leaked contours of which suggest little has been done to address Arab demands.

Kushner's approach to ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict does not appear to have progressed since his last regional tour in June, focusing largely on economic initiatives at the expense of a land-for-peace deal long central to the official Arab position, two sources in the Gulf told Reuters on Wednesday.

Palestinians have refused to discuss any peace blueprint with the United States in the wake of President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital in 2017, while some Arab leaders have publicly rejected any deal that fails to address Jerusalem's status or refugees' right of return.

Kushner, who is President Donald Trump's son-in-law, met with leaders in the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Oman this week. He arrived in Turkey on Wednesday. 

Three sources said Kushner had gone to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday although there was no official statement on the visit or his meetings with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. The Saudi media office did not respond to a request for comment.

One of the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the plan presented this week did not appear to take into consideration previously stated Arab demands on the status of Jerusalem, the right of Palestinian refugees to return and Israeli settlements in occupied territory.

Under the Arab Peace Initiative drawn up by Saudi Arabia in 2002, Arab nations offered Israel normal ties in return for a statehood deal with the Palestinians and full Israeli withdrawal from territory captured in 1967.

The source said Kushner, a real estate developer with little experience of international diplomacy or political negotiation, wanted to make a deal first and then agree on details.

The source added that the plan envisages a "substantial" financial contribution from Gulf states, but did not provide details.


Arab concerns


King Salman has dismissed Arab concerns that Saudi Arabia might back a US deal that aligns with Israel on key issues, after the crown prince, who is close to Kushner, reportedly pressed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to support the administration's efforts. 

Kushner's meeting with Prince Mohammed on Tuesday was the first since the murder of prominent journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last October sparked an outcry and tarnished the prince's image.

Jordan, a US ally where a majority of the population are descendants of Palestinians who fled during or after the creation of Israel in 1948, insists that no peace can be achieved without dealing with Jerusalem, where it serves as custodian of Muslim holy sites.

"The Americans are still in the process of presenting various ideas and scenarios but don't appear to have arrived at final parameters of a plan," said a second source in the Gulf region.

"They know that there are final-status issues that are non-starters for regional allies and the Palestinians alike," the source added, referring to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan.

Kushner was given responsibility for Israel-Palestinian policy two years ago, but has still not provided concrete details of US efforts, which Trump has dubbed "the deal of the century".

Kushner said in an interview on Monday that Washington would present the peace plan only after Israel's election on April 9, though previous targets have passed without any announcement. 

He said it would build on past efforts — including the 1990s Oslo accords that provided a foundation for Palestinian statehood — and resolve borders and final-status issues. But he made no specific mention of a Palestinian state.

Israel has long rejected any return to what it has described as indefensible boundaries that existed before it captured the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Middle East war.

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