Speaking to the Times of London in his first UK interview as president-elect, published Monday, Donald Trump confirmed that he intends to appoint son-in-law Jared Kushner to broker a Middle East peace deal. Trump also urged Britain to veto any new anti-Israel UN Security Council resolution, and had nothing but harsh criticism regarding President Obama’s handling of the Iran nuclear deal.
The new appointment is very much in the familiar Trump style of management, whereby he sets up competition between top executives he appoints to parallel positions. In the case of brokering a peace deal, Trump has previously announced the appointment of his loyal attorney Jason Greenblatt, who was his adviser on Israel during the campaign, to negotiate a Middle East peace as Trump’s special adviser on international agreements.
This should be interesting to watch: two competing peace deals between Jerusalem and Ramallah. Or perhaps one Trump envoy will take Gaza. There’s no doubt the president-elect continues to do the unexpected and remains unpredictable. The question is, do Israelis have anything to worry about in son-in-law Jared Kushner?
The grandson of Holocaust survivors, Kushner was raised in a wealthy Orthodox Jewish family in New Jersey that made its fortune in real estate, and graduated with honors from the Frisch School, a coed yeshiva high school, in 1999.
One of the formative events in Jared’s life was the fall of his father, Charles Kushner, who in 1985 founded Kushner Companies. In 2005, US Attorney Chris Christie made his career on the back of Jared’s father, getting him convicted of illegal campaign contributions, tax evasion, and witness tampering, and landing him in federal prison. Christie thumped his chest victoriously and pushed for a three-year sentence for Charles Kushner, humiliating him publicly by exposing how he had hired a prostitute to seduce his brother-in-law on tape in retaliation against his sister, who was a witness for the prosecution. Christie announced then: “It shows that no matter how rich and powerful you are in this state you will be prosecuted and punished for crimes you commit.”
It was the Kushner case that helped make Christie governor of NJ in 2009. Jared Kushner, who was an intern for Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau at the time of the trial, later described Christie’s abusive handling of his father’s case as the reason why he changed his career course.
In 2016, Jared Kushner’s intervention with the Trump transition team was widely believed to be the reason why Gov. Christie was dropped from the president-elect’s roster, having served the campaign loyally for much of 2016.
So Jared Kushner is a man who knows how to keep a grudge, and knows the secret of revenge being best served ice cold. It should serve as a stern warning to both Israelis and Arabs as he embarks on yet another US administration’s attempt to broker a long lasting peace deal in the Middle East: don’t underestimate him, don’t mess with him, don’t take him for granted. The man is extremely bright, unbelievably ambitious, and has a very long memory.
Netanyahu’s circle seemed elated last November, when a victorious Donald Trump told the NY Times he was mulling making Jared Kushner his envoy to the peace negotiations. Ambassador Ron Dermer said, “There’s no question that he feels a strong commitment to Israel’s security and Israel’s future.” But the Times pointed out that Kushner is not on a first name basis with the business and political elite in Israel – his only friend in Israel is Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat. Kushner was a child when he met Benjamin Netanyahu when the latter visited Charles Kushner at his NJ home. Trump told the Times that his son-in-law “knows the region, knows the people, knows the players.” But that might be an exaggeration.
Kushner was a valuable asset to Trump in making the connections for him with Netanyahu and Dermer, as well as Sheldon Adelson and other right-leaning, influential American Jews. His start point is probably more favorable to Israel than any of his predecessors in the thankless job of trying to broker peace between Israelis and Arabs. But that’s no guarantee. If, for instance, PM Netanyahu tries his usual yes-but-not-now approach to the two-state solution, he might not get far with Kushner. The PA, by the way, are besides themselves with anxiety over the emphatically pro-Israeli new White House. Which could mean they’d be willing to give up more to Trump than to say, the ever-beseeching John Kerry. Such a change in attitude might, paradoxically, give them a leg up with Kushner.
Indeed, while recent polls have shown that a majority of the PA and Gaza Arabs have given up on the two-state solution, many Arab pundits, such as Ramzy Baroud, suggest there never was a real Arab consensus in support of partition. The new trend for both rank and file and intellectuals on the Arab side is to embrace the one-state approach, just make sure it won’t be Jewish.
This might be a rougher ride than the Israeli right imagined.