Trump says he will likely release Mideast peace plan after Israel elections

FILE PHOTO: A demonstrator holds a Palestinian flag and a cane during a protest against the Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes in the village of Sur Baher which sits on either side of the Israeli barrier in East Jerusalem and the Israeli-occupied West Bank July 26, 2019. REUTERS/Mussa Qawasma

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Sunday he would likely wait until after Israel’s Sept. 17 elections to release a peace plan for the region that was designed by White House senior adviser Jared Kushner.

Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, is the main architect of a proposed $50 billion economic development plan for the Palestinians, Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon that is designed to create peace in the region.

(Reporting by Ginger Gibson; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Palestinians say U.S. ‘deal of the century’ will finish off their state

FILE PHOTO: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas meets with White House senior advisor Jared Kushner in the West Bank City of Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank June 21, 2017. Thaer Ghanaim/PPO/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo

By Samia Nakhoul

BEIRUT (Reuters) – The U.S. blueprint to end the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, still in draft form after almost two years, is seen by Palestinians, and by some Arab officials and politicians, as a plan to finish off the Palestinian cause.

The initiative, driven by Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law and White House adviser, was billed by the U.S. president as the “deal of the century”.

While its precise outlines have yet to be revealed, Palestinian and Arab sources who have been briefed on the draft plan say Kushner has jettisoned the two-state solution – the long-standing U.S. and international formula that envisages an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza.

After several postponements, Washington plans a first formal outing of the economic components of the plan at a “Peace for Prosperity” workshop in June in Bahrain.

The plan faces possible delays due to political upheaval in Israel, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must fight another election after failing to form a government.

Kushner and Trump, with backgrounds in real estate rather than diplomacy, seem to be approaching this hitherto insoluble conflict as a transaction, three Arab officials briefed on the plan said.

If the politics keep failing, the reasoning seems to be, then try dangling tens of billions of dollars before the Palestinians and Israel’s Arab neighbors and do a deal that could unlock prosperity for the Palestinians and security for Israel, these officials said.

Politically, the deal envisages an expansion of Gaza into part of northern Egypt, under Egyptian control, Palestinian officials briefed on the plan told Reuters. Palestinians would be left with a smaller share of the West Bank and some areas on the outskirts of Jerusalem and no control over their borders. Western and Arab sources confirmed the outline of the plan.

Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s Middle East envoy, said “rumors” about an expansion into Egypt’s Sinai desert were false. He declined to give details of the political plan before it is released.

On the decision not to use the term “two-state solution”, Grenblatt said: “We believe that using certain phrases and labels is not helpful because they lack detail and nuance – they mean different things to different people. The detailed plan, once released, will show what we think may be best solution for the two parties.”

NOT BUYING IT

The Palestinians are not buying it.

“What we’re seeing from the plan is that it will blow up the Palestinians,” one Arab official told Reuters. “The plan doesn’t give justice to the Palestinians.”

“The Palestinian cause is being liquidated – no Jerusalem (as capital), no right of return for refugees, no sovereign state. That is why this American project is dangerous,” one senior Palestinian leader told Reuters.

The deal as outlined so far has been dismissed by President Mahmoud Abbas’ western-backed Palestinian Authority in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Abbas has boycotted political dealings with the Trump administration for 18 months. This followed Trump’s decisions in 2017 to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv.

    Since then, the Trump administration has curtailed aid to the Palestinian Authority, shuttered the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) delegation in Washington and cut off finance to UNRWA, the U.N. agency supporting Palestinian refugees. Washington meanwhile endorsed Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

“In practice, they have already started implementing ‘the deal of the century’,” the senior Palestinian leader said, “on the ground, step by step”. “Today, the two-state solution has been scuttled”.  Abbas is not alone in his view of the U.S. deal.

It was rejected by the Islamist Hamas movement, which does not recognize Israel’s right to exist and has only given conditional consent to a state in the occupied Palestinian territories.

The PLO has dismissed the Kushner effort as an attempt to bribe Palestinians into accepting Israeli occupation of the West Bank, a prelude to Israel annexing about half their territory and leaving them with scattered cantons.

Hanan Ashrawi, a moderate Palestinian leader, tweeted that the Kushner plan and the Bahrain conference were just “a handout to make our captivity palatable”.

Palestinian businessmen have opposed the Bahrain gathering despite a plea by Washington to attend, saying their political demands must be addressed in any peace plan.

Qatar said economic prosperity cannot be achieved without political solutions acceptable to Palestinians. Oman said anything that precludes the establishment of a Palestinian state will not be acceptable.

“We are not proposing an economic peace,” Greenblatt said. “We know that is not acceptable to the Palestinians. We’ve been very clear that the full plan includes a political component as well. But the economic plan is an essential component to the full plan.”

MOVING ON

Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, an influential think-tank and supporter of Israel, wrote after interviewing Kushner this month that the deal is a political disaster that should be abandoned.

He said positive economic proposals could be lost by the attempt to skirt around Palestinian rights.

“The only way to protect the long-term viability of the plan’s best aspects is to kill it,” he said.

Satloff wrote that “unlike a real estate transaction in which one party gets the property and the other party gets the cash, a Middle East peace deal starts and ends with the two parties as neighbors, stuck with each other sharing a duplex for eternity”.

Kushner meanwhile visited the Middle East this week seeking support for the June 25-26 Bahrain conference.

The meeting is to talk about the cash. The U.S. plan expects almost all of this  “$50 billion to $70 billion” to be put up by Gulf Arab allies, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Palestinian sources said. Yet even that is now moot.

Saudi Arabia, under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and the UAE, under Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, want to move on from a Palestinian conflict they believe has held back the Arab world.

That means uniting with Israel against Iran and concentrating on domestic challenges such as economic reforms and confronting Islamist radicals.

The Saudi crown prince maintains close ties with Kushner. But his father, King Salman, has twice said there will be no deal unless Israel meets Palestinian rights to a state.

“Kushner has been taken by surprise in his meetings in Riyadh recently, where there has definitely been a change in tone – in private and in public – by the Saudis,” said a senior western diplomat.

Asked for comment, the White House referred to its earlier official statement on Kushner’s February meeting with the crown prince and the king which said they discussed “increasing cooperation” and efforts to facilitate peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

NEW REALITY

The Palestinian official said it is clear that Israel “is creating a new reality on the ground” with the Trump administration’s help – not least by paving the way for the annexation of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

The Palestinian and Arab officials briefed on the Kushner- Trump plan said its political contours, as explained to them, look like non-starters unless there is a peace deal.

The essential part is Gaza: where 2 million Palestinians are shut into a strip between Israel and Egypt. The idea is to expand it into the north of Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, creating an area where Palestinians can live and work under Egyptian control.

“The plan envisions Gaza stretching from Rafah (its southern border) to El Arish and some parts of Sinai. This area will be a Palestinian expansion in which Palestinians can reside,” the Palestinian leader said.

Big projects, such as an airport, a seaport, an industrial zone and power stations are envisaged, Palestinian sources briefed on the plan said.

On the West Bank, the plan is for Israel to annex and join up the settlements, take the Jordan valley and make it the Israeli border with Jordan, and leave the Palestinians a bit less than half as “an autonomous mini-state under some form of self-government”, the senior Palestinian leader said.

As for Jerusalem, Palestinians would get neighborhoods on the outskirts such as Abu Dis and Beit Hanina and Silwan: “not the real Jerusalem (but) they will tell them this is your Jerusalem”, the Palestinian leader added.

Western diplomats and intelligence sources worry about how the plan might affect Egypt and Jordan. However much money is offered, these sources question whether Egyptians would happily relinquish territory.And Jordan fears a Trump-backed Israel is returning to an old theme: Jordan is Palestine and that is where the Palestinians of the West Bank should go, they say.

 

(Additional reporting by Ghaida Ghantous, Eric Knecht, Suleiman Al-Khalidi and Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Giles Elgood)

Netanyahu hours away from deadline for forming coalition government

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem May 19, 2019. Ariel Schalit/Pool via REUTERS

By Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had until late Wednesday to form a new ruling coalition with a recalcitrant ally or face the possible end of a decade of combative leadership of Israel.

As the hours ticked by, there was no sign of a breakthrough in talks with far-right former defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman. Parliament began a full-day debate on a motion to dissolve itself and call a new election if no deal is struck.

Political sources said Netanyahu was seeking agreement with the leaders of parties in the legislature for a mid-September election day.

Netanyahu had declared himself the winner of a national ballot last month, but he now has until midnight (2100 GMT) to tell President Reuven Rivlin whether he has put together an administration, and his political future hangs in the balance.

Failure to forge a coalition would take the task out of the 69-year-old Netanyahu’s hands, with Rivlin asking another legislator, either from the prime minister’s right-wing Likud party or from the opposition, to try.

That presidential move, which would sideline Netanyahu, can be avoided with a coalition agreement deal or if parliament approves an election.

Political commentator Chemi Shalev, writing in the left-wing Haaretz daily, said a last-minute agreement was still possible and Netanyahu would still be the favorite to win a new poll.

But he said Netanyahu’s critics now find themselves fantasizing about a world without him.

“It’s not an easy task, given his decade in power and the four more years he supposedly had coming. Young Israelis can’t even begin to imagine an Israel without him: Netanyahu as prime minister is all they’ve ever known,” Shalev wrote.

Lieberman has stuck to his guns in a battle with the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, a member of Netanyahu’s current interim government, to limit traditional military draft exemptions for Jewish seminary students.

Without the support of Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu party, which has five seats in the 120-member Knesset, Netanyahu cannot put together a majority government of right-wing and religious factions led by Likud.

Political commentators said that as the prospects dimmed for a compromise with Lieberman, Netanyahu would focus his efforts on enlisting the 61 votes needed in parliament to approve a new election.

The brinkmanship six weeks after the closely contested April ballot poses another challenge to Netanyahu’s decade-long rule and deepens political uncertainty in a country riven with division.

PEACE PLAN

A new election could also complicate U.S. efforts to press ahead with President Donald Trump’s peace plan in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Even before it has been announced Palestinians have rejected it as a blow to their aspirations for statehood.

The White House team behind the proposal, including Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, is in the Middle East to drum up support for an economic “workshop” in Bahrain next month to encourage investment in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. The group is due in Israel on Thursday.

Lieberman said on Wednesday he was not backing down in what he termed a matter of principle over the conscription issue, and he denied Likud allegations his real intention was to oust Netanyahu and lead a “national camp”.

“I am not a vengeful man and I don’t hold a grudge,” said Lieberman, who last year resigned as defense chief in a dispute with Netanyahu over policy toward Gaza.

Despite looming indictments in three corruption cases,

Netanyahu had appeared to be on course for a fifth term as head of a right-wing bloc after he squeezed past centrist challenger Benny Gantz, a former head of the Israeli armed forces.

Public attention had been focused less on coalition-building and more on moves Netanyahu loyalists were planning in parliament to grant him immunity and to pass a law ensuring such protection could not be withdrawn by the Supreme Court.

Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing in the cases and is due to argue at a pre-trial hearing in October against the attorney-general’s intention, announced in February, to indict him on bribery and fraud charges.

(Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Most foreign envoys absent as Israel, U.S. launch embassy festivities

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claps after handing U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman a letter of appreciation, during a reception held at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem, ahead of the moving of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, May 13, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

By Ori Lewis

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel launched celebrations on Sunday for the U.S. Embassy’s relocation to Jerusalem, a move whose break with world consensus was underscored by the absence of most envoys to the country from a reception hosted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Monday’s slated opening of the new embassy follows U.S. President Donald Trump’s recognition in December of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a decision he said fulfilled decades of policy pledges in Washington and formalized realities on the ground.

The Palestinians, who want their own future state with its capital in east Jerusalem, have been outraged by Trump’s shift from previous administrations’ preference for keeping the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv pending progress in peace efforts.

Those talks have been frozen since 2014. Other major powers worry that the U.S. move could inflame Palestinian unrest in the occupied West Bank and on the Gaza Strip border, where Israel reinforced troops in anticipation of the embassy opening.

Most countries say Jerusalem’s status should be determined in a final peace settlement, and say moving their embassies now would prejudge any such deal.

Senior White House Advisers Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump attend a reception held at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem ahead of the moving of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, May 13, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

Senior White House Advisers Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump attend a reception held at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem ahead of the moving of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, May 13, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

Addressing dignitaries at the Foreign Ministry, including U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and the president’s daughter and son-in-law, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, the Israeli prime minister urged others to follow Washington’s lead.

“Move your embassies to Jerusalem because it’s the right thing to do,” Netanyahu said. “Move your embassies to Jerusalem because it advances peace, and that’s because you can’t base peace on a foundation of lies.”

Netanyahu said that “under any peace agreement you could possibly imagine, Jerusalem will remain Israel’s capital”.

Jerusalem, which is sacred to Jews, Muslims and Christians, was decorated with roadside flowerbeds in the design of the U.S. flag and posters reading “Trump make Israel great again”.

“Tragically, the U.S. administration has chosen to side with Israel’s exclusivist claims over a city that has for centuries been sacred to all faiths,” the general delegation of the Palestine Liberation Organisation to the United States said.

The U.S. Embassy move “gives life to a religious conflict instead of a dignified peace,” it said in a statement.

Israel said all 86 countries with diplomatic missions in Israel were invited to the event, and 33 confirmed attendance. Among those present were delegates from Guatemala and Paraguay, which will open their own Jerusalem embassies later this month.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin speaks during a reception held at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem, ahead of the moving of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, May 13, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin speaks during a reception held at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem, ahead of the moving of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, May 13, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

EUROPEAN RIFT

Attending the Foreign Ministry gathering were representatives from Hungary, Romania and the Czech Republic, but none from western European Union states – suggesting a rift within the bloc over Trump’s Jerusalem move.

No-show nations withheld comment on Sunday.

The EU mission in Israel tweeted on Friday that the bloc would “respect the international consensus on Jerusalem … including on the location of their diplomatic representations until the final status of Jerusalem is resolved”.

Outside Jerusalem’s ancient Damascus Gate, Israelis danced in another celebration on Sunday, marking the capture of the Old City from Arab forces in the 1967 Middle East War.

Hundreds of Israeli rightists entered Al Aqsa mosque compound, an icon of Palestinian nationalism and a vestige of ancient Jewish temples. Witnesses said some prostrated themselves in Jewish prayer, violating religious restrictions at the site and sparking scuffles with Muslim worshippers.

Israeli police said several people were forcibly removed and questioned.

The U.S. Treasury secretary called the embassy relocation “a sign of the enduring friendship and partnership between our two countries” and also referred to the U.S. withdrawal last week from the Iran nuclear deal, a move welcomed by Israel and some U.S. Arab allies in the Gulf but lamented by other world powers.

The Palestinians plan to demonstrate against Monday’s inauguration from Arab districts abutting the Jerusalem site.

On the border with Gaza, Palestinians have also held protests as Israel prepares to mark 70 years since its creation, an event Palestinians call the Nakba, or Catastrophe, when hundreds of thousands of them were displaced from their homes.

More than 40 Palestinians have been killed in the latest violence.

In a recorded speech released on Sunday, al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri criticized Trump’s decision on the embassy, as well as the leaders of Muslim countries he said had sold out the Palestinians. He also said Israel’s Tel Aviv was Muslim land.

The Trump administration has sought to keep the door open to Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy by saying the embassy move did not aim to prejudge Jerusalem’s final borders. The U.S. consulate in the city, tasked with handling Palestinian ties, will remain.

Washington has not asked Israel to initiate peace moves in exchange for the embassy relocation, U.S. Ambassador David Friedman told reporters on Friday: “There was no give and take with Israel with regard to this decision.”

(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza, Dan Williams in Jerusalem and Warren Strobel in Washington; Editing by Edmund Blair and Daniel Wallis)

Trump ‘very committed’ to Mideast peace, envoy Kushner says

Trump 'very committed' to Mideast peace, envoy Kushner says

By Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump remains “very committed” to achieving Israeli-Palestinian peace, his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the start of talks on Thursday.

But there was little to suggest any breakthrough or significant progress towards ending a decades-old conflict is imminent as Kushner began a day of separate meetings with Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Palestinians were still seeking a pledge of support from the Trump administration for the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel – the foundation of U.S. Middle East policy for the past two decades. The last round of peace talks between the two sides collapsed in 2014.

For his part, Netanyahu faces pressure from right-wing coalition partners not to give ground on Jewish settlement building in occupied territory that Palestinians seek for a independent state. The settlement issue contributed to the breakdown of negotiations three years ago.

“We have things to talk about – how to advance peace, stability and security in our region, prosperity too. And I think that all of them are within our reach,” Netanyahu, welcoming Kushner to his Tel Aviv office, said in a video clip released by the U.S. Embassy.

Kushner, a 36-year-old real estate developer with little experience of international diplomacy or political negotiation,

arrived in Israel with U.S. Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt on Wednesday after meeting Arab leaders in the Gulf, Egypt and Jordan.

“The president is very committed to achieving a solution here that will be able to bring prosperity and peace to all people in this area,” Kushner, who was tasked by Trump to help broker a peace deal, said in his response to Netanyahu.

“ULTIMATE DEAL”

Trump has described peace between Israelis and Palestinians as “the ultimate deal” – and added a new wrinkle last February by saying he was not fixed on two states co-existing side by side as a solution to their dispute.

In the West Bank, Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for Abbas, said Kushner’s visit – he last traveled to Israel and the Palestinian territories in June – could prove significant, particularly because of the envoy’s consultations with regional allies this week.

“This may create a new chance to reach a settlement based on the two-state solution and the Arab initiative and stop the current deterioration of the peace process.”

Abu Rdainah was referring to a 2002 Arab League initiative that offers Israel diplomatic recognition from Arab countries in return for a statehood deal with the Palestinians and a full Israeli withdrawal from territory captured in a 1967 war.

Netanyahu has expressed tentative support for parts of the blueprint, but there are many caveats on the Israeli side, including how to resolve the complex Palestinian refugee issue.

Painting a pessimistic picture, Mahmoud al-Aloul, the second-ranking official in Abbas’ Fatah movement, accused U.S. negotiators of focusing in their talks with the president on “Israeli lies” about Palestinian incitement to violence and ignoring what he described as fundamental statehood issues.

“I do not think the American envoys are coming carrying anything – nothing at all,” he told reporters.

(Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza, editing by Mark Heinrich)

Trump will send envoys to Middle East to discuss peace: official

Senior Adviser to the President Jared Kushner speaks outside the West Wing of the White House in Washington, U.S., July 24, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

By Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump is sending his son-in-law Jared Kushner and negotiator Jason Greenblatt to the Middle East soon to meet regional leaders and discuss a “path to substantive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks,” a White House official said on Friday.

Deputy national security adviser Dina Powell will also be on the trip, which will include meetings with leaders from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Jordan, Egypt, Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the official said.

“While the regional talks will play an important role, the president reaffirms that peace between Israelis and Palestinians can only be negotiated directly between the two parties and that the United States will continue working closely with the parties to make progress towards that goal,” the official said.

Kushner, who serves as a senior adviser to his father-in-law, was charged with helping to broker a deal between Israelis and Palestinians after Trump took office.

The president went to Saudi Arabia and Israel during his first post-inauguration trip abroad and has expressed a personal commitment to reaching a deal that has eluded his Republican and Democratic predecessors.

The timing of the trip was pegged to the recent “restoration of calm and the stabilized situation in Jerusalem” after a spate of violence last month sparked by Israel’s installation of metal detectors at entry points to the Noble Sanctuary or Temple Mount compound there.

Trump directed that the talks focus on a pathway to peace talks, fighting “extremism,” easing the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and identifying economic steps that can be taken to ensure security and stability, the official said.

“To enhance the chances for peace, all parties need to engage in creating an environment conducive to peace-making while affording the negotiators and facilitators the time and space they need to reach a deal,” the official said.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Dan Grebler and James Dalgleish)

Trump’s son-in-law launches Middle East peace effort

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas meets with White House senior advisor Jared Kushner in the West Bank City of Ramallah June 21, 2017. Thaer Ghanaim/PPO/Handout via REUTERS

By Luke Baker

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, met Israeli and Palestinian leaders on Wednesday to try to revive long-fractured Middle East peacemaking that Washington acknowledged will take some time.

Kushner, a 36-year-old real estate developer with little experience of international diplomacy or political negotiation, arrived in Israel on Wednesday morning and was due to spend barely 20 hours on the ground.

Video showed him giving Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a friend of Kushner’s father, a handshake and a hug as they prepared to sit down with the Israeli ambassador to Washington, the U.S. ambassador to Israel and other senior officials for preliminary discussions.

“This is an opportunity to pursue our common goals of security, prosperity and peace,” Netanyahu said. “Jared, I welcome you here in that spirit. I know of your efforts, the president’s efforts, and I look forward to working with you to achieve these common goals.”

Kushner replied: “The president sends his best regards and it’s an honor to be here with you.”

Kushner did not speak to the media or take questions, maintaining the circumspect profile he has established since Trump took office in January.

U.S. officials and Israeli leaders “underscored that forging peace will take time and stressed the importance of doing everything possible to create an environment conducive to peacemaking,” the White House later said in a statement.

Kushner traveled to Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, for two hours of talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas after iftar, the evening meal that breaks the daily Ramadan fast.

Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rdainah said all major issues at the heart of the conflict were discussed.

U.S. officials called the trip part of an effort to keep the conversation going rather than the launching of a new phase in the peace process, saying that Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, the president’s special representative for international negotiations, are likely to return often.

Trump has described peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians as “the ultimate deal” and made it a priority. As well as receiving both Netanyahu and Abbas in the White House, he visited the region last month.

But it remains unclear what approach Trump, via Kushner and Greenblatt, plans to take on resolving one of the world’s most intractable conflicts.

For at least two decades, the goal of U.S.-led diplomacy has been a “two-state solution”, meaning an independent Palestinian state living side-by-side and at peace with Israel.

But when Trump met Netanyahu in Washington in February, he said he was not fixed on two states saying, “I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like”.

12 ‘BULLET POINTS’

Netanyahu has in the past given conditional backing to two states. But ahead of his last election victory in 2015, he promised there would never be a Palestinian state on his watch, a remark seen as an attempt to shore up right-wing support.

In discussions with Greenblatt before Kushner’s visit, Palestinian sources said the phrase “two-state solution” had not been used.

Palestinian sources said that ahead of Kushner’s meeting with Abbas, they had been asked to draw up a list of 12 “bullet point” demands they would want met in any negotiations.

They saw it as a helpful exercise in focusing on core elements rather than an oversimplification of a complex issue.

Trump administration officials have said that if they are going to make progress on peace, they do not want to get bogged down in process but to move rapidly on tackling what are known as “final status” issues, the complexities around Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees, water resources, security and borders.

Those have long been thorny problems in the multiple rounds of peace negotiations launched by both Republican and Democratic presidents since the mid-1990s. It remains unclear what new approach Trump’s administration may have to untangling disputes that blend politics, land, religion and ethnicity and have defied resolution for 70 years.

(Additional reporting by Jeffrey Heller and Ali Sawafta; Editing by Howard Goller)

Trump’s son-in-law Kushner begins peace push with Middle East talks

FILE PHOTO: White House senior adviser Jared Kushner at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, U.S. June 19, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

By Luke Baker

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, will meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday, beginning a new U.S. effort to revive Middle East peace efforts.

Kushner, a 36-year-old real estate developer with little experience of international diplomacy and peace negotiations, arrived in Israel early on Wednesday and will spend barely 20 hours on the ground – he departs shortly after midnight.

During his stopover, he will meet Netanyahu for their first formal discussions on peace, before traveling to Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, for talks with Abbas after Iftar, the evening meal that breaks the Ramadan fast.

U.S. officials are calling the trip part of an effort to keep the conversation going rather than the launching of a new phase in the peace process, saying that Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, the president’s special representative for international negotiations, are likely to return repeatedly.

Greenblatt arrived in Israel on Monday for preliminary discussions in both Jerusalem and Ramallah, and will remain for follow-up talks after Kushner has departed, officials said.

Trump has described a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians as “the ultimate deal” and made it a priority since taking office: he’s received both Netanyahu and Abbas in the White House and visited the region last month.

But it remains unclear what approach Trump, via Kushner and Greenblatt, plans to take on resolving one of the world’s most intractable conflicts.

For at least two decades, the goal of U.S.-led diplomacy has been a “two-state solution”, meaning an independent Palestinian state living side-by-side and at peace with Israel.

But when he met Netanyahu in Washington in February, Trump said he was not fixed on two states saying, “I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like”.

Netanyahu has in the past given his conditional backing to two states. But ahead of his last election victory in 2015, he promised there would never be a Palestinian state on his watch, a remark seen as an attempt to shore up support on the right.

In preliminary discussions before Kushner’s visit, Palestinian sources said the phrase “two state solution” had not been used.

SETTLEMENT DISPUTE

On Tuesday, hours before Kushner’s arrival, Netanyahu announced the beginning of work on a new settlement in the West Bank, and has talked of thousands more settlement homes, ramping up a policy that has long been a major obstacle to peace.

The Palestinians have in the past called for a freeze on settlement building before any negotiations can take place. Most of the world considers settlements built on occupied land illegal under international law, a position Israel disputes.

Palestinian sources said that ahead of Kushner’s meeting with Abbas, they had been asked to draw up a list of 12 ‘bullet point’ demands they have in any negotiations.

They saw it as a helpful exercise in focusing on core elements rather than an oversimplification of a complex issue.

Trump administration officials have said that if they are going to make progress on the Israel-Palestinian conflict, they do not want to get bogged down in process but to move more rapidly toward resolving what are known as “final status” issues, the complexities around Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees, water resources, security and borders.

(Writing by Luke Baker; Editing by Andrew Heavens)