White House officials set to rally support for Middle East peace plan

Posted at 5:31 PM, Feb 07, 2019

Top Trump administration officials will privately reveal key aspects of the White House’s Israeli-Palestinian peace plan during a trip to the Middle East later this month as they inch closer to a public rollout, two senior White House officials said.

The top US officials will share details of the economic portion of their peace plan with several wealthy Arab countries as they look to secure financial support for the economic plan, which is designed to boost the Palestinian economy if Israelis and Palestinians reach a political settlement. Even though the officials will not address the administration’s vision for a political settlement, the presentations will be the most significant to date of the administration’s closely held peace plan.

“We would not be taking this trip if we were not serious about a launch in the coming months,” said one senior White House official, who was granted anonymity to share details of the yet-unannounced trip.

Senior adviser Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, the special representative for international negotiations, will offer up the details to their counterparts during a weeklong trip at the end of the month to Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, the senior White House officials said.

Kushner and Greenblatt will be looking for the countries to back the concepts of the economic plan, but will not be asking for immediate financial pledges, mindful that these governments will first want to see details of the political settlement the Trump administration plans to offer, two senior White House officials said.

“They’re not going to support the economic plan without making sure they also support the political plan, and we recognize that. So the support, I’m sure, will be conditioned on whether they are comfortable with the political plan,” one senior White House official said, adding that Kushner and Greenblatt will also seek feedback from the regional leaders.

White House officials said the US would also help finance an eventual economic package, but buy-in from Middle Eastern countries will be crucial as administration officials consider the economic portion to be a lynchpin of its peace proposal.

“The economic plan only works if the region supports it,” the official said. “We really are taking very seriously both aspects of this, the political and the economic … We understand that if the political aspect of it is not solid, the economic aspect is meaningless. But at the same time the political aspect will not succeed without a proper economic plan.”

But the slow march toward a rollout comes even as Palestinian officials have continued to refuse any direct talks with the Trump administration. Palestinian officials cut off contact with the White House after Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017, but senior White House officials said they have consulted with other Palestinians to gauge the Palestinian perspective.

Amid Palestinian officials’ refusal to engage with the US-led peace process, the Trump administration moved last summer to cut off US funding to the United Nations’ Palestinian relief agency.

And relations between the US and the Palestinian Authority have only frayed further in recent weeks. Palestinian officials rejected US funding for its security forces late last month amid concerns that accepting the funds could leave the Palestinian Authority liable to legal claims under a new US anti-terror law, the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act. Congress and the State Department are trying to find a way around the new law’s constraints.

The trip to the region was initially scheduled to take place last month, but was delayed because of the partial government shutdown. Kushner and Greenblatt will also be accompanied by Brian Hook, US special representative for Iran and a senior policy adviser to the secretary of state, as well as by several administration officials involved in crafting the economic plan.

The economic plan will include a combination of public- and private-sector investments designed to spur job creation in the Palestinian territories should Palestinian and Israeli officials reach a political settlement to end the conflict, the White House officials said. Trump administration officials hope the economic package will incentivize Palestinian leaders to agree to a deal.

Kushner, Greenblatt and other US officials have worked to develop the peace plan over the last two years and had begun to beef up their staff last fall to prepare for a public rollout. Trump said in September he would likely unveil his administration’s peace plan by the end of January.

But turmoil in domestic Israeli politics forced the White House to push back its timeline as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called snap elections scheduled for April. A senior White House official said the White House would likely wait until after the elections to release its peace plan publicly.

The White House’s decision to share significant details of its peace plan with other countries was the surest indication yet that the White House is gearing up for a public rollout as they have so far refused to share details of the plan for fear that aspects of the plan would leak and undermine their plans. Two senior White House officials acknowledged Thursday that the presentations to foreign government officials could result in parts of the economic plan leaking to the public because it was important to get those countries on board.

Trump administration officials have repeatedly pointed to shifting dynamics in the Middle East as sowing fertile ground for the release of an eventual peace plan. Israel and Sunni Muslim countries in the Middle East have quietly grown closer in recent years over a shared view of the Iranian threat, and the White House is hoping those Arab countries can encourage Palestinian leaders to accept a deal.