“It did not go very far, but then nobody expected it to.”
This was how an Egyptian diplomat chose to sum up the regional tour by Jared Kushner, the US envoy to the Middle East, which ended this week.
The son-in-law of US President Donald Trump and author of his long promised Deal of the Century, Kushner visited Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Morocco.
The tour did not include any meetings with representatives of the Palestinian Authority (PA) which has rejected the proposed deal outright and almost fully suspended contacts with the US on the issue. Kushner’s earlier appeal for the Palestinians to engage with his ideas fell on deaf ears.
In Rabat, in addition to meeting with Moroccan officials, Kushner and his team met with the UAE’s Mohamed bin Zayed and other Arab officials who had flown to the North African capital.
The aim of the tour, as reflected by official statements from the US Middle East peace team, was to secure greater financial support from Gulf states that are supporting the Deal of the Century.
In Bahrain, in June, Kushner launched the economic blueprint for the deal Trump has been promising since 2017: to create a fund, mostly with money from Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar, to be jointly managed by the World Bank and concerned international and regional players. The money will be used to support development programmes in the occupied Palestinian territories, and in neighbouring states that host large numbers of Palestinian refugees.
In terms of raising money “Kushner made progress” according to one informed diplomat. But beyond the promise of funds, diplomats agreed little if anything was achieved.
“The trouble is that Kushner, as well as some Arab capitals, seem convinced that the PA is just bargaining. They think Palestinian President [Mahmoud] Abbas will eventually agree in return for more money,” said a Cairo-based European diplomat.
But the problem for Abbas, he argued, is not to do with money but being asked to make compromises “he simply cannot make”.
“To ask Abbas to agree to a deal that does not include a two-state solution is impossible.”
It is an open secret that the political component of the Deal of the Century circumvents the two-state solution, offering a version of self-rule in some of the areas Israel occupied in 1967 in return for economic aid and, possibly, open borders with Egypt and Jordan.
PA sources have repeatedly said they cannot agree to such an offer. Abbas himself dismissed “anyone who would work along those parameters” as “a traitor”.
Abbas declined to send any representatives to the Bahrain economic meeting, a decision cheered by his arch political enemies in Hamas.
According to Mohamed Kamel Al-Beheiri, an expert on Palestinian affairs, “the only point of agreement between the PA and Hamas is their joint rejection of the proposed American deal”.
“This is why it is impossible for any Arab capital, even those that view it as an opportunity, to endorse the deal.”
According to informed diplomats, Kushner’s appeals to officials in the Gulf and Egypt to encourage the PA to engage “on discussion basis” were rebuffed. Egypt, for example, issued a statement underlining its continued support of the two-state solution.
During his tour Kushner was unable to overcome Jordan’s rejection, and Morocco’s scepticism, of the deal, reported one Arab diplomat.
“King Abdullah of Jordan has repeatedly made it clear he cannot support the deal, or any attempts to patriate Palestinian refugees in Jordan. He has not changed his position,” one Arab diplomat said.
According to Al-Beheiri, there is little chance of King Abdullah changing tack, whatever the sticks or carrots. “In addition to questions about the monarchy’s ability to survive the massive repatriation of Palestinian refugees, there is also the question of the ruling Jordanian family’s position vis-à-vis the holy Muslim sites in Jerusalem.”
Ahead of the Kushner visit, King Abdullah visited the UAE and Egypt. According to the same Egyptian diplomat, the fate of the Palestinian cause was on the agenda of talks in both capitals.
King Abdullah’s concerns are shared by Morocco’s Mohamed VI, the default leader of the Jerusalem Committee.
“He may not be totally opposed to the deal Trump is offering but this does not change the fact that Jerusalem is a very sensitive issue for Morocco and the deal Trump wants amplifies the attitude that led him to move the US capital to Jerusalem, acknowledging it as the capital of Israel,” argues one Arab diplomat.
Kushner, says Al-Beheiri, basically faced an Arab split on the deal that will be difficult to overcome unless there are significant changes to the political document that the US president is planning — “at least for now” — to release following the Israeli elections scheduled for 17 September.
Israel is facing its second election this year following Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s failure to forge a governing coalition after his Likud Party won the largest number of seats in spring.
Netanyahu’s chances of forming a government do not appear to be improving. In addition to the growing attempts of the Israeli Left to form a coalition, Netanyahu has to worry about splits within both the Israeli Right and his own Likud Party.
Netanyahu is clearly worried his party will select another prime minister should Likud once again emerge as the largest party, a fact that makes it difficult for those Arab capitals willing to play along with the Deal of the Century to be more forthcoming.
Bahrain, which has long promised to host a visit by Netanyahu, has delayed the proposed trip.
“Netanyahu is in a fix. Kushner is not willing to change the political parameters of his deal; the Palestinians are not bowing and concerned regional capitals are not in agreement. Kushner’s recent tour, or any future tours, will not change the reality,” Al-Beheiri concluded.
And the result? The political part of the Deal of the Century is unlikely to be released anytime soon.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 8 August, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: The limits of money