Photo Credit: Kobi Gideon / GPO
US Special Envoy Jason Greenblatt, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem

by Andrew Friedman

United States President Donald Trump’s special adviser Jared Kushner and his Middle East Envoy Jason D. Greenblatt wrapped up a lightning visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority on Thursday, having held talks with Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen).

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Kushner left Israel late Wednesday night. Greenblatt followed on Thursday after a few more meetings.

Sources close to the talks refused to disclose details of the discussions, other than a terse statement by Liberman’s office that the group discussed “security issues and regional challenges.”

Following a meeting between Greenblatt and Kushner in Ramallah with Abbas, the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem called the session “productive” and said top Palestinian Authority officials “reaffirmed their commitment to advancing President Trump’s goal of a genuine and lasting peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.”

The Americans also said the sides focused on “potential next steps, including moves to develop economic opportunities for Palestinians and investments in the Palestinian economy,” but did not elaborate.

Following the visit, Arye Mekel, a former Israeli Consul General in New York, Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations and diplomatic adviser to Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, told Tazpit Press Service (TPS) that the ultimate success of Trump’s push to restart talks remains to be seen, despite his clear desire to score what Trump calls “the ultimate deal.”

“At the moment nobody has got a lot of information about the content of the talks, but what we do see is intensity,” Mekel said. “Trump came, Greenblatt’s been here two or three times, this time Jared Kushner joined him. He acts directly in the name of the president. So there’s a very concerted effort here. Of course, it’s too early to tell where it will all lead, but you can see that they are trying.”

Mekel and others said they were confident that the Trump administration would not try to “reinvent the wheel” by rehashing old ideas to achieve Israel-Palestinian Authority peace. Yossi Klein Halevi, a veteran journalist who now serves as senior fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, told i24 TV that he came away from a private session with Jason Greenblatt impressed with the latter’s clear interest in listening to both sides.

“He was unlike any [foreign negotiator] we’ve seen before,” Halevi said. “He was here to listen, rather than to lecture. That’s something new for us.”

As noted, little is known about the substance of the diplomatic talks this week, other than the fact that Prime Minister Netanyahu is believed to have continued his push to bypass the Palestinian Authority issue with a regional peace agreement with the Sunni Arab world, in order to create a regional bloc against Iran. Arye Mekel called the possibility a dream, but one that ultimately does not rest with Ramallah.

“I would say that the key player in these talks is Riyadh, not Ramallah,” Mekel said. “Even if Israel were to offer Abu Mazen the deal of a lifetime, he would not take it because there is no way he will allow himself to go down in history as the person who gave up on the “right” of return.

The wildcard in the equation, he said, is Saudi Arabia, which up to now has steadfastly refused to “abandon the Palestinians” in favor of dealing with Israel, but now finds itself increasingly afraid of an ever-more confident Iran.

“There are several young leaders in the Gulf region, starting with newly appointed Saudi Crown Prince, 31-year-old Prince Mohammed bin Salman. So there is a new generation of leaders emerging in the region, but nobody knows where they will lead things.

“Could they break with their parents’ generation and move towards a deal with Israel? Maybe. Will they? Only time will tell,” Mekel said.

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