May 21, 2021

Jared Kushner’s Middle East fantasy explodes,

Updated 7:11 PM ET, Thu May 20, 2021

Peter Bergen is CNN's national security analyst, a vice president at New America and a professor of practice at Arizona State University. He is senior editor of the Coronavirus Daily Brief and author of the new book "Trump and His Generals: The Cost of Chaos." The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.

(CNN)President Donald Trump's shadow secretary of state, Jared Kushner, had a sole diplomatic achievement, grandiosely termed the "Abraham Accords." The accords would purportedly start the process of bringing peace to the Middle East by normalizing relations between Israel and a number of Arab states.

Two months ago, Kushner took to the pages of The Wall Street Journal to congratulate himself on the supposed "geopolitical earthquake" that was engendered by the Abraham Accords, while dismissing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as "nothing more than a real-estate dispute."

But now a genuine geopolitical earthquake precipitated by this mere real estate dispute has erupted into a shooting war between Israel and the Palestinians, a conflict that is in its eleventh day.

Kushner's plan was predicated on a fantasy; that peace would be achieved by negotiating without the Palestinians and instead by creating warmer relations between the Arab states and Israel. In Kushner's analysis, the road to peace in Israel ran not through Gaza, Jerusalem and the West Bank, but through the United Arab Emirates.

Of course, there was nothing wrong with trying to foster better relations between the Arab states and Israel, relations that were already warming because of their common enemy: Iran.

But the fantasy elements in Kushner's plan were that the Palestinians would essentially forget about their legitimate grievances because of large scale investments that Kushner would help secure for the Gaza and the West Bank, while the Arab states would put pressure on the Palestinians to make a lasting peace with Israel. The Arab nations would then, in turn, have more leverage on Israel to moderate its stance on the Palestinian issue.

But none of this happened.

Kushner's plan to corral $50 billion for Palestinian projects sputtered because the Palestinians boycotted an investment conference that he hosted in Bahrain in 2019. At the conference, President Donald Trump's Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin claimed that investments in the West Bank and Gaza were "going to be like a hot I.P.O.," evoking the Wall Street phrase for an initial public offering of stock.

Instead of a hot I.P.O., there is now a hot war.

As the conflict has raged between Israel and the Palestinians, the Saudi government, which was not a party to the Abraham Accords, issued a statement "categorically" rejecting "Israeli violations against Palestinians," while Morocco, which was a party to the accords, said it was watching the war "with deep concern."

Turns out that the Arabs actually do care about this "real estate dispute," not least because the third holiest site in Islam is the Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem, the site from which Muslims believe that the Prophet Muhammad ascended into heaven.

The match that first lit the fire of the current conflict was an ill-judged Israeli police raid on April 11 at the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the first day of Ramadan. The police operation was mounted to turn off loudspeakers broadcasting prayers so that the president of Israel could deliver a speech nearby without any possible interruption, according to The New York Times.

Almost a month later, Israel police raided the mosque again using stun grenades, charging that Palestinian protesters had provoked the move by throwing stones.

Another accelerant for the conflict was the possible eviction of several Palestinian families in East Jerusalem, which they saw as part of a far larger pattern of the persistent encroachment on Palestinian lands by the Israelis, a process that, in fairness, began long before the Trump administration.

But the eviction of Palestinians from their land by the Israelis accelerated during Trump's tenure, according to analyses by The Associated Press.

David Friedman, Trump's ambassador to Israel, said that he did not believe Israeli settlement activity was illegal and that the Trump administration could support Israel even if it annexed parts of the West Bank.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu who has long pushed for more Israeli settlements, was so close to Kushner's family that he had once slept in Kushner's childhood bedroom in New Jersey, while Jared moved to the basement for the night.

Acting as if it were an arm of the Netanyahu government, the Trump administration implemented punitive measures against the Palestinians, such as withdrawing US support for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which educates hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinian children in countries around the Middle East.

The Trump administration also closed the Palestinian mission in Washington, DC, and moved the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which previous US administrations had avoided doing as it was deemed provocative to the Palestinians who lay claim to parts of East Jerusalem.

In short, the Trump administration went out of its way to sabotage any chance of a real peace settlement in Israel, which any fair-minded observer knows must be some kind of two-state solution.

The Biden team has inherited this Trumpian mess. President Joe Biden had a reportedly stern discussion with Netanyahu on Wednesday, saying "that he expected a significant de-escalation today on the path to a ceasefire." This is a good start -- the era of giving a blank check to Netanyahu must end. And on Thursday evening President Biden announced that a cease-fire would go into effect between the Israelis and Hamas.

Kushner has famously said that he had read 25 books about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which he seemed to think equipped him to solve the issue.

I wonder if in the course of doing his homework Kushner ever had a chance to watch "The Gatekeepers." According to six former leaders of Shin Bet, Israel's internal security service, who spoke frankly in this remarkable 2013 documentary, Israel wins pretty much every battle, but it will still lose the overall war if it doesn't find a way to peace through a two-state solution.