Egypt Independent

Kushner to visit Middle East on peace plan’s economic part



WASHINGTON (Reuters) – White House senior adviser Jared Kushner will travel to at least five Arab countries in late February to brief diplomats on the economic portion of a long-awaited US peace proposal for the Middle East and seek their support, officials said on Thursday.

Kushner, who is President Donald Trump’s influential son-in-law, and Trump’s Middle East envoy, Jason Greenblatt, plan stops in Oman, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar on their week-long trip, two senior White House officials said. They may add two other countries to their itinerary.

Kushner and Greenblatt, joined by State Department envoy Brian Hook and Kushner aide Avi Berkowitz, will not brief the diplomats on the “political component” of the peace plan, which covers all core issues of the decades-old conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, the officials said.

Instead, they will gauge the level of support for the economic part of the plan, which is expected to include a combination of aid and investment to help the Palestinian people, the officials said.

“Jared is going to share elements of the economic plan to the region. The economic plan only works if the region supports it,” said one official who briefed a small group of reporters. “This is a very important part of the overall equation.”

Seeking regional support for the economic plan is a step on the way to the eventual unveiling of Trump’s sweeping proposals to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The economic plan is widely expected to include international funding proposals for the impoverished Gaza Strip.

Officials said they realized that the Arab diplomats Kushner meets will want to know elements of the political component before rendering a judgment on the economic plan.

“They’re not going to support the economic plan without making sure they also support the political plan, and we recognize that. So the support, I’m sure in some manner, will be conditioned on whether they are comfortable with the political plan,” one official said.

Release of the Trump peace plan was delayed after Palestinians erupted in anger when Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in December 2017.

The current thinking among White House officials is that the peace plan will be unveiled sometime after Israel holds elections on April 9 that will decide the fate of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

It is unclear how the US plan would deal with the sensitive issue of Jerusalem. Palestinians want the city’s eastern part as their future capital. Kushner is not visiting Israel on this trip, the officials said.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has refused to talk about any peace plan with the United States in the wake of Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem, but White House officials hope that will change.

“We hope Abbas reads the plan, judges it on its merits, and comes to the table for negotiations after we release the plan. His people deserve nothing less,” one official said.

US officials, meanwhile, have been meeting with Palestinians “from all walks of life” to keep lines of communication open, the official said.