Kushner back to gauge political climate to determine plan rollout…again

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Former French envoy surprisingly gives some support to plan in Lebanese paper

By Herb Keinon  – The Jerusalem Post

US presidential adviser Jared Kushner is expected to meet on Monday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and prime ministerial hopeful Benny Gantz to test the political waters here and determine when it will be possible to release the oft-delayed US peace plan.

Kushner and other members of the US peace team last visited in July in a visit that was also seen as an attempt to gage the Israeli political climate and determine when to release the plan. Nothing has changed since then in terms of certainty about who will be the next prime minister or what the next government will look like.

Kushner, is expected to be accompanied by Treasury Minister Steven Mnuchin, new Mideast negotiator Avi Berkowitz – who is replacing the departing Jason Greenblatt – and the US special envoy on Iran, Brian Hook. The delegation is expected to meet with both Netanyahu and Gantz on Monday.

The delegation is scheduled to travel from Israel to Riyadh for an economic conference in Riyadh on Tuesday, a conference the US skipped last year due to the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey..

Just prior to the September 17 elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the US would be releasing the plan within days of the election – a prediction that has proven way off the mark.

US Ambassador David Friedman told The Jerusalem Post last month that he was “fairly confident” the plan would be rolled out in 2019.

He also said that the administration wanted to wait until after a government was formed so that there would be a government in place able to deal with the plan.

“We would like to deal with a formed government, so they are in a position to react and respond and talk to us about it,” he said, adding, “I think we will respect the Israeli democratic process through the coalition formation.”

Friedman’s assumption at the time, however, seemed to be that a government would be formed and that Israel would not need to hold yet another election. If Israel goes to third elections, it is not clear whether the US would continue holding off releasing the plan until a government is formed. – something that could last until the late spring of 2020.

By that time the US would be in full campaign swing, and releasing the plan then would make it a hot issue in the campaign – something it is questionable whether the administration would want to do.

The plan, which has been rejected by the Palestinians sight unseen, and mocked by numerous pundits and former officials involved in the Mideast diplomatic process, received some support on Sunday from an unlikely quarter: former French ambassador to Israel and then to the US Gérard Araud.

Araud, who caused a kerfuffle in April by stating that Israel was an apartheid state, a comment he latter walked back, penned an op-ed for the Lebanon’s Daily Star on Sunday stating that US Presdient Donald Trump’s model of “proposing an agreement instead of merely trying to broker one between the two sides” could be the right move and “establish a model for his sucessors to follow.”

Araud wrote that previous US diplomatic efforts have always aimed to lead the two sides to negotiate a deal themselves under US auspices. Trump’s new approach, he wrote, is to unveil a detailed peace plan, which he said is “not necessarily a bad idea, because both sides seem incapable of moving forward on their own.

“Kushner’s plan is now ready. It is 50 pages long, he told me a few months ago,” Araud wrote. “Although the plan’s contents are a well-kept secret, they are likely to be close to Israel’s position. The US proposal might, therefore, offer the Palestinians a large degree of autonomy rather than a full-fledged state, and maintain most of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank.”

Araud, who served in Israel from 2003-2006, wrote that the Palestinians “face a choice between an unsatisfactory compromise and a continuous (and soon irreversible) deterioration of their situation. Perhaps they will conclude that taking a deal will be a good first step. That, at least, is the calculation of Kushner, who repeatedly says that his plan will be ‘better for the Palestinians than they think’.”

Araud wrote that whatever Trump decides to do regarding the plan, “one thing is clear: Israel and the Palestinians are unable to reach a peace agreement by themselves, as even Israel’s most ardent US supporters now acknowledge. Any subsequent attempt to mediate the conflict will have to be based on recognition of that reality.”

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