While dozens of Palestinians in Gaza were killed in clashes with the Israeli Defense Forces, the Trump administration chose neither to express sympathy for the Palestinians killed nor to join international calls for Israeli restraint. Trump has, on the other hand, cut financial assistance for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) out of pique that the Palestinians have not given him the requisite “appreciation or respect,” as if humanitarian aid, even when it serves U.S. national interests, should be awarded in return for flattery. His administration has offered unconstrained support for settlements, with an ambassador who has fought against use of the word “occupation” and refers to “Judea and Samaria,” as favored by Israeli settlers, instead of traditional U.S. references to the West Bank. It is no surprise, therefore, that the Palestinians stopped talking to the administration. It is hard to see how the United States under Trump will ever be seen as an honest broker, or be able to go around Abbas, when two-thirds of Palestinians oppose the resumption of contacts with U.S. negotiators and 88 percent view the United States as biased in favor of Israel.
The third Kushner fantasy is that the Arab Gulf states, Egypt, and Jordan will help him overcome these major challenges. It is true that the Trump administration has forged close ties with leaders of these countries, largely on the back of its strong stance against Iran, open spigot for arms sales, and setting aside traditional concerns about human rights. And it is also true that these regional leaders share with Israel a common strategic perspective on Iran and on Islamic extremism, and that with so many other challenges on their plates—from low oil prices to Yemen and Syria—they don’t prioritize the Palestinian issue as much as previous generations.
But these changing regional perspectives do not mean Arab leaders will expend the political capital to deliver the Palestinians, even if they could. There is no doubt Kushner heard positive words from Arab friends in private meetings on his just-finished four-day trip to Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Qatar, before going to Israel. But he should not hold his breath waiting for those leaders to publicly embrace positions on peace that the Palestinians—and the vast majority of their populations—reject. This is especially true on the issue of Jerusalem, where any softening of the Saudi or Egyptian backing for Palestinians would be immediately denounced—and taken advantage of—by their rivals in Iran, Qatar, and Turkey.
The fourth fantasy is that the Palestinians can be bought off with economic assistance to compensate for political losses. In his interview with the Palestinian newspaper, Kushner suggested that the Trump administration could “attract very significant investments in infrastructure … that will lead to increases in GDP and we also hope a blanket of peaceful coexistence.” Putting aside that the Trump administration has not even made or been able to attract major investments in U.S. infrastructure, which makes one wonder about the West Bank and Gaza, this emphasis on economic issues has been tried unsuccessfully many times before. During the Oslo era of the 1990s, then the 2002 Roadmap for Peace and the Bush administration’s Annapolis process, and finally Secretary of State John Kerry’s effort during the Obama administration, successive U.S. administrations have tried to enhance the prospects for peace by improving conditions on the ground. It is of course laudable to promote much-needed economic development in the West Bank and Gaza, but Kushner should know by now that prosperity will never substitute for political peace. The key issues remain borders and sovereignty; security; settlements and occupation; refugees; and Jerusalem. No Palestinian leader can survive in office by promising economic benefits alone.