Jared Kushner is heading to Israel for peace negotiations

Hunter Walker
White House Correspondent
Jared Kushner, senior White House adviser, speaks during a meeting with technology executives in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C., on June 19. (Photo: Zach Gibson/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, is scheduled to travel to Israel and the Palestinian territories on Wednesday for meetings that the White House says are aimed at “achieving a lasting peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians.” Kushner will be accompanied by Jason Greenblatt, a Trump adviser whose official title is “assistant to the president and special representative for international negotiations.” According to a White House official who discussed the trip with Yahoo News, the pair are two of Trump’s “most trusted advisers” and will be spearheading a “peace effort” that is a “top priority” for the president.

“He strongly believes that peace is possible,” the official said of Trump.

Kushner and Greenblatt are set to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and their senior advisers. Greenblatt has been in the region since Monday and had a preliminary meeting with Netanyahu on Tuesday. The pair also accompanied Trump on his visit there last month, and there have been ongoing conversations since then. The White House official said the meetings this week will be focused on “priorities and potential next steps” and emphasized that this will be the beginning of a lengthy process.

“It is important to remember that forging a historic peace agreement will take time, and to the extent that there is progress, there are likely to be many visits by both Mr. Kushner and Mr. Greenblatt, sometimes together and sometimes separately, to the region and possibly many trips by Israeli and Palestinian negotiators to Washington, D.C., or other locations as they pursue substantive talks,” the White House official said.

Trump has been outspoken about his desire to help broker a peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians since taking office in January and has tasked Kushner with leading the effort. At a gala dinner on the night before Trump’s inauguration, he turned to Kushner and declared, “If you can’t produce peace in the Middle East, nobody can.”

Kushner was a real estate developer prior to joining his father-in-law in the White House. His role in the peace process has engendered criticism because of his lack of diplomatic experience. His senior position in the administration has also led to charges of nepotism.

Greenblatt similarly had no prior diplomatic experience. Before joining the administration he was the chief legal officer of Trump’s real estate company. In a profile for Foreign Policy magazine last month, writer Armin Rosen suggested Greenblatt’s lack of a foreign policy background could actually be an asset. Rosen spoke to experts on the conflict from across the political spectrum who offered positive assessments of Greenblatt’s initial visits to the region and said he engaged with a broader cross-section of players in the area than previous, more-traditional diplomats.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, right, meets with Jason Greenblatt, President Trump’s assistant and special representative for international negotiations, at his office in the West Bank city of Ramallah on March 14, 2017. (Photo: Abbas Momani /AFP/Getty Images)

“Trump’s envoy approached the region with fresh eyes and won fans on both sides of the Green Line as a result,” Rosen wrote.

Along with Greenblatt’s lack of a foreign policy résumé, Rosen also noted he “had never tried to participate in Middle Eastern affairs and had never even publicly commented on the region” before Trump’s presidential campaign. Although Kushner has never worked in the diplomatic arena, he had not been as disengaged from the conflict as his new colleague.

Prior to joining the Trump administration, Kushner served on the board of the Friends of the IDF, a nonprofit charity that raises funds for the Israeli military. According to its website, the Friends of the IDF raises money for morale-boosting events and gifts for soldiers. Some of the funds are given to commanders of individual battalions and brigades.

Friends of the IDF has been protested by critics of the Israeli government, including former NBA players. In 2012, musician Stevie Wonder canceled a planned appearance at a fundraiser for the group. His representatives claimed the United Nations recommended he withdraw from the performance because it conflicted with his role as a U.N. “messenger of peace.”

As a presidential adviser, Kushner is subject to conflict-of-interest laws that prevent him from working with organizations or having investments that could be influenced by White House actions over which he has authority. Kushner left the Friends of the IDF’s board in January when he took the White House role. Records obtained by Yahoo News also show he divested Israel bonds worth between $100,001 and $250,000 on Feb. 16.

Norm Eisen, an attorney who was the White House ethics czar and ambassador to the Czech Republic under President Barack Obama, told Yahoo News that Kushner’s affiliation with the nonprofit wouldn’t affect his ability to negotiate Middle East peace.

“I do not think that his former membership is a problem to any of the parties. Obviously the Israelis don’t mind it and, in my own experience, I did some work on the peace process when I was the ambassador, and I was known to the Palestinians as a strong Zionist. But I was open about it and they welcomed me nonetheless,” Eisen said.

Rosen, the writer who profiled Greenblatt and has extensively covered the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, similarly said that Kushner’s prior support for the Israeli government wouldn’t be an issue.

“I don’t think past fundraising or even political activities necessarily matter that much here. It’s more a question of what he’s done to build relationships, communicate his commitment to getting a deal done, and demonstrate that he has the president’s ear,” Rosen said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and David Friedman the new U.S. ambassador to Israel, attend a ceremony celebrating the 50th anniversary of the liberation and unification of Jerusalem, in front of the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, May 21, 2017. (Photo: Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP)

Rosen pointed out that Trump’s current ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, has raised money for West Bank settlements, yet the Palestinians are still willing to work with him because they believe he has a strong relationship to the president.

“The Palestinians are likely to take David Friedman seriously despite his fundraising for the Beit El settlement because they’re likely to see him as a personal extension of whatever the president wants,” explained Rosen.

And Kushner and Greenblatt are about as close to the president as it gets. Trump is known for valuing family and his longtime associates above all else. Kushner has become one of his father-in-law’s closest aides, and Greenblatt spent nearly two decades at Trump’s company. Along with their tight ties to Trump, the pair may be hoping to have an even higher power in their corner as they take on the monumental task of negotiating a peace settlement. Both Kushner and Greenblatt are observant Jews. On Monday, as he prepared for Kushner’s arrival, Greenblatt visited the Western Wall in Jerusalem, the holiest site in the Jewish religion. On Twitter, he posted a photo of himself praying there.

“Today, at the Kotel, I prayed for an end to violence and that we would experience the blessings of peace,” Greenblatt said.

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