Whatever one thinks of the Trump administration and its approach to Middle East peace, you have to give the Trump team high marks for its ability to keep a secret. Speculation has abounded for months about what Jared Kushner, Jason Greenblatt, and their colleagues are working on and what their peace initiative will contain, whenever it is unveiled. For those who wish their efforts to be successful, Sunday’s New York Times reporting on the details of the Trump plan are not encouraging.
According to the Times story, following Kushner’s visit to Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) summoned President Abbas to Riyadh and presented him with a plan that sounds like something out of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s wildest dreams. It would involve sovereignty over non-contiguous territory in the West Bank – presumably Areas A and B, and some parts of Area C – with a Palestinian capital in Abu Dis rather than East Jerusalem, and no evacuation of settlements from Area C. It is unclear whether this would be a final status agreement or an interim accord that could be expanded later, but its terms are more in line with maximalist Israeli positions rather than any sort of compromise. The Times further reported that MBS heavily pressured Abbas into not only sitting down at the negotiating table but accepting a deal on these specific terms, and that he is prepared to use his financial leverage to reward Abbas for accepting or pressure him to resign if he rejects it.
This report is curious in a lot of ways. For starters, Kushner himself publicly caused reason to doubt its veracity at the Saban Forum on Sunday by extolling the importance of a final status agreement that will put many of the issues between Israelis and Palestinians to bed. The terms as described by the New York Times story do none of that, and instead sound like a series of half measures in preparation for something else down the road. The problem, of course, is that trying to convince the Palestinians to sign off on something to which literally no Palestinian leader could acquiesce will doom any later part of this plan, since it will never get past the first step. If the Trump administration used MBS to float a trial balloon, it backfired spectacularly, but it also goes against the grain of Kushner’s preference for a comprehensive deal – a preference that he expressed so strongly that he even endorsed the concept known as linkage, which holds that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will make the region’s other problems go away. President Trump’s qualifier in his recognition of Jerusalem’s capital yesterday that it does not prejudice final status issues also points toward a desire for a comprehensive deal over interim half measures.