- Trump's son-in-law is in charge of brokering Israeli-Palestinian peace
- Jared Kushner's qualification for the role has been questioned
- His team does not contain a single Middle East expert
- The selection of lawyers and executives has been ridiculed
It is a conflict that has lasted the best part of a century, but U.S. President Donald Trump declared with certainty to his son-in-law in January: “If you can’t produce peace in the Middle East, nobody can.”
A 36-year-old investor and real-estate developer, Jared Kushner hardly seems to fit the bill for a diplomat to negotiate the seemingly irreconcilable divide between Palestinians and Israelis.
When Trump announced Kushner would work to "broker a Middle East peace deal” it was widely commented that he had no diplomatic experience.
Trump insisted his son-in-law as qualified, however, because he "knows the region, knows the people, knows the players."
Kushner’s team, meanwhile, seem to have equally tenuous qualifications for their involvement.
“A bunch of Orthodox Jews who have no idea about anything,” is how Israeli-American media proprietor Haim Saban described it when challenging Kushner at the Saban Forum on Sunday.
“The team has in it an entrepreneur, you, a real-estate lawyer, a bankruptcy lawyer - I don’t know how you’ve lasted eight months in this line-up,” Saban continued.
“There’s not a Middle East [expert] in this group.”
So, other than his daughter’s husband, who has Trump placed in charge of the complex and volatile issue of Israeli-Palestinian peace?
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The bankruptcy lawyer
David Friedman is, according to Kushner, “one of the most brilliant bankruptcy lawyers.” Friedman is also the U.S. ambassador to Israel.
Saban’s joke that “it’s a bankrupt situation” seems to constitute the furthest you can stretch the link between the two careers.
His lack of qualification for the post was pointed out by no fewer than five previous U.S. envoys to Israel. They referenced his “extreme, radical positions,” including support for illegal settlements and annexing the West Bank to Israel.
Those settlements have regularly been cited as the most substantial barrier to resolution of the conflict, as well as being considered illegal by the U.N. Support for them, therefore, seems like even less of a qualification for a peace deal team than practicing bankruptcy law.
Friedman has also been intimately involved in Trump’s project to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a change that many have warned could have catastrophic consequences for the peace process.
The real estate lawyer
Along with Friedman, Jason Greenblatt chaired the Israel Advisory Committee during Donald Trump’s election campaign.
Greenblatt is from the world of real estate, like Kushner, and a believer that the “West Bank settlements are not an obstacle to peace,” like Friedman.
In fact, the similarities in perspectives and backgrounds between the three men seems to belie Kushner’s claim that the team works because they “listen to all the different sides and understand them.”
Kushner's suggestion that “there are a lot of real estate issues to this…” seems like a slap in the face to all those Palestinians who have been dispossessed or forced from their lands by the occupation and illegal settlement activity.
Perhaps smarting at Saban’s jibe that they were a “bunch of Orthodox Jews,” Kushner quickly referenced Egyptian-born Dina Habib Powell.
“Her family is Egyptian, she speaks Arabic,” he emphasized, twice suggesting she was “instrumental” in the team.
The former Goldman-Sachs executive, Kushner said, was “helping us develop a regional, aspirational economic plan for what could happen post-peace.”
Unlike the rest, Powell does have job experience relating to the Middle East.
Made assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs under George Bush, she was charged with creating public-private partnerships to create jobs in Lebanon and elsewhere.
Still, she forms part of Trump’s circle of nepotism, having come onboard as Ivanka Trump’s informal advisor.
Kushner insists that while “not conventional,” his team is “perfectly qualified.”
He asserts that it works because “there is a lot of trust within the team,” which makes both sides more willing to talk to them.
Certainly, Kushner seems to have won over the confidence of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, with whom he has had at least three meetings. The pair have reportedly discussed the establishment of a Saudi-funded Palestinian state.
The dubiously qualified selection of individuals working alongside Kushner, however, seem to be making little effort to communicate with the Secretary of State on the efforts. Rex Tillerson is reportedly “increasingly alarmed” over the senior Trump advisor’s “secret talks” with Bin Salman.
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