Trump Team Begins Drafting Middle East Peace Deal

President Trump with Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and a senior adviser, at the White House in July. Mr. Kushner is leading efforts to broker a Middle East peace deal.
Tom Brenner/The New York Times

President Trump and his advisers have begun developing their own concrete blueprint to end the decades-old conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, a plan intended to go beyond previous frameworks offered by the American government in pursuit of what the president calls “the ultimate deal.”

After 10 months of educating themselves on the complexities of the world’s most intractable dispute, White House officials said, Mr. Trump’s team of relative newcomers to Middle East peacemaking has moved into a new phase of its venture in hopes of transforming what it has learned into tangible steps to end a stalemate that has frustrated even presidents with more experience in the region.

The prospects for peace are caught up in a web of other issues consuming the region, as demonstrated in recent days by Saudi Arabia’s growing confrontation with Iranian-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon. Israel is likewise worried about Hezbollah as well as efforts by Iran to establish a land corridor across southern Syria. If a war with Hezbollah broke out, it could scuttle any initiative with the Palestinians.

Nonetheless, Mr. Trump’s team has collected “non-papers” exploring various issues related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and officials said they expected to address such perennial dividing points as the status of Jerusalem and settlements in the occupied West Bank. Although Mr. Trump has not committed to a Palestinian state, analysts said they anticipated that the plan will have to be built around the so-called two-state solution that has been the core of peacemaking efforts for years.

“We have spent a lot of time listening to and engaging with the Israelis, Palestinians and key regional leaders over the past few months to help reach an enduring peace deal,” said Jason D. Greenblatt, the president’s chief negotiator. “We are not going to put an artificial timeline on the development or presentation of any specific ideas and will also never impose a deal. Our goal is to facilitate, not dictate, a lasting peace agreement to improve the lives of Israelis and Palestinians and security across the region.”

Mr. Trump, who considers himself a dealmaker, decided to adopt the challenge when he took office in January, intrigued at the idea of succeeding where other presidents failed, and he assigned the effort to Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and senior adviser. Neither had any background with the issue and the effort was greeted with scorn, but the fact that the president entrusted it to a close relative was taken as a sign of seriousness in the region.

Mr. Trump’s team sees the convergence of factors that make the moment ripe, including an increased willingness by Arab states to finally solve the issue to refocus attention on Iran, which they consider the bigger threat. With that in mind, Egypt is brokering a reconciliation between Mahmoud Abbas, who presides in the West Bank, and Hamas, which controls Gaza, a deal that would cement the Palestinian Authority as the representative of the Palestinian people. Saudi Arabia has summoned Mr. Abbas to Riyadh to reinforce the importance of a deal.

“The stars begin to align in a way that creates a moment,” said Nimrod Novik, a fellow at the Israel Policy Forum who served as foreign policy adviser to former Prime Minister Shimon Peres, who negotiated the Oslo Accords in the 1990s. “But obviously the two key questions are will Prime Minister Netanyahu decide to go for it” and “will President Trump, once he’s presented a plan by his team, decide it’s worth the political capital required.”

Still, neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel nor President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority is in a strong position to negotiate. Mr. Netanyahu faces corruption investigations and pressure from the right in his narrow coalition not to make concessions, while Mr. Abbas is aging and endures strong opposition among his own constituents.

Skepticism abounds, especially among those who spent years struggling to overcome the same challenges with the same set of tools. President Barack Obama and his advisers debated for months putting forth their own parameters for a deal, ultimately outlining a general set of principles at the end of last year in a speech by Secretary of State John Kerry as time ran out on the administration.

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SOURCE: New York Times, Peter Baker