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Opinion Kushner has no idea what he is saying about the Middle East

Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner leads the inaugural meeting of the American Technology Council in June in Washington. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Jared Kushner may feel special counsel Robert S. Mueller III breathing down his neck, but meanwhile, he continues to demonstrate that he is entirely in over his head and dangerously ignorant on policy matters.

The latest demonstration came at the Saban Forum in Washington. Kushner appears not to have learned from years of failure in the “peace process,” insisting that this president will find the magic formula for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. “We do think it’s achievable,” he said.

That would have been bad enough. However, he went a step further and revived an old, discredited myth, generally referred to as “linkage.” He said, “If we’re going to try and create more stability in the region as a whole, you have to solve this issue.” Wrong, wrong, wrong.

“Jared Kushner once again shows how supremely unqualified he is to hold any government office, much less one as delicate as handling Israeli-Palestinian relations,” says foreign policy guru Max Boot. “The notion that Israeli-Palestinian peace is precondition for progress in other parts of the Mideast has been repeatedly falsified. This is the same delusion that Republicans once criticized the Obama administration for espousing. But Kushner may be unaware of this given how little he knows about the region in which he now meddles at the president’s behest.”

Boot is correct in saying that conservative policy wonks would have gone nuts if Barack Obama said this. Actually, they did. If we have learned anything over the past decade, it is that the Arab world’s attempt to pin the region’s problems on Israel’s “failure” to make peace with the Palestinians is entirely misplaced, and worse, an excuse for corrupt potentates to avoid needed reforms.

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In 2008, Martin Kramer wrote:

Given so long a list, it is obvious that conflict involving Israel is not the longest, or the bloodiest, or the most widespread of the region’s conflicts. In large part, these many conflicts are symptoms of the same malaise: the absence of a Middle Eastern order, to replace the old Islamic and European empires. But they are independent symptoms; one conflict does not cause another, and its “resolution” cannot resolve another.

He noted that after the 1979 Egypt-Israel Camp David accords, “conflicts in the region intensified. Large-scale wars erupted—not between Israel and its neighbors, but in the Persian Gulf, where a revolution in Iran, and the belligerence of Iraq, exacted a horrendous toll and required repeated U.S. interventions.” Then came the Arab Spring, the genocidal civil war in Syria, the radicalization of Turkey and two coups in Egypt. None of that had anything to do with Israel or the Palestinian conflict.

Kushner’s comment is particularly idiotic given how closely Israel is cooperating currently with its Arab neighbors while the Palestinian crisis goes unresolved. Israel’s close cooperation with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf states is at a high point as they collectively battle the threat of Iranian aggression.

Eric Edelman, former ambassador to Turkey, tells me, “The Palestinian-Israeli conflict deserves to be settled — on its own terms.” He continues, “For years the conventional wisdom was that the key to resolving the conflicts of and providing security in the Middle East was an Arab-Israeli peace deal. It was never true.” However, “to put it back at the center of things now, when the strategic circumstances and conflicts in the region are in so much turmoil and so clearly disconnected from anything to do with the occupied territories, is really surprising and also a little disheartening,” he observes.

Ironically, it is President Trump’s own policy that may drive a wedge between Israel and its new friends. The Post reports:

Arab nations and Palestinian officials have warned of dire consequences if the United States recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, including potential unrest and an end to the peace process, amid last minute lobbying to prevent President Trump from making the move.
In a late night call Sunday, the Jordan’s foreign minister, Ayman Safadi, warned Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that such a decision could “trigger anger across the Arab and Muslim world, fuel tension and jeopardize peace efforts,” according to Jordan’s state news agency.
Egypt’s foreign minister, Sameh Shoukry, also discussed the “possible negative impacts” on peace with Tillerson, according to a foreign ministry spokesman. He asked that Tillerson avoid taking decisions which could “stir tensions in the region.”

There’s a reason that every U.S. president who ran on recognizing Jerusalem as the capital or on moving the embassy backed down in office. Unless and until there is a comprehensive peace deal, the issue remains technically “open.” But to Israel’s advantage, Jerusalem also remains in Israel’s hands. Sometimes the status quo is the best solution — especially when Israel has succeeded in making unprecedented inroads with its Sunni Arab neighbors.

That’s not to say that in the hands of skilled diplomats something might be accomplished without roiling the Middle East. “If it is done in a way that says we are acknowledging a reality that for Israel, Jerusalem is and will always be its capital, that no one questions whether West Jerusalem is and will always be part of Israel, and that we are not pre-judging the outcome of the final status of Jerusalem which can only be determined  by negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, then it is manageable,” says former Middle East negotiator Dennis Ross. “The key point is are we continuing to accept that the final status of Jerusalem can only be resolved through negotiations or are we pre-empting that?” He adds, “The former can work, the latter cannot and would put Arab leaders on the defensive, requiring them to prove their opposition to us and our plans.” It’s hard to imagine that the Trump crew has the finesse to pull this off.

Kushner surely is not the only ignoramus in the White House, but he’s the most visible and is seen as speaking directly for Trump. Any new secretary of state should demand Kushner hush up and/or report directly to him on all foreign-policy matters. He’s a one-man wrecking crew, not only when it comes to rotten judgment in the Russia scandal.