Jared Kushner’s visit to Jerusalem to promote his troubled Middle East peace plan appeared to abruptly lose its remaining energy after an overnight crisis in Israeli politics plunged the country into a months-long election campaign.
With no guarantees that Benjamin Netanyahu’s Trump-friendly government will stay in power past the summer, any progress made with Kushner – Donald Trump’s son-in-law and adviser – is at risk of being revoked by the next Israeli administration.
One month after Israelis voted in a national poll, Netanyahu failed to form a government by the deadline of midnight on Wednesday and chose to push parliament to disband rather than risk political foe Benny Gantz snatching the premiership from his grasp.
New elections are set for 17 September, and the next government may not take power until October or even later.
After meeting Kushner on Thursday at his residence, Netanyahu made light of the collapse of his attempts to assemble a government. “Even though we had a little event last night, that’s not going to stop us,” he told reporters. “We’re going to continue working together. We had a great, productive meeting which reaffirms that the alliance between the United States and Israel has never been stronger.”
In a bid to play down the political chaos and focus public attention on his foreign policy prowess – in particular his close friendship with Trump – Netanyahu displayed an official US state department map that he said Kushner had given him, updated to incorporate the long-disputed Golan Heights as part of Israel. Trump had apparently scribbled “Nice” on the map with an arrow pointing to the disputed area.
As it did earlier this year for April’s polls, Washington will likely delay releasing details of its peace plan until the campaign is over. By that point, Trump will be gearing up for his own 2020 campaign, and will then be the one unable to make long-term guarantees on behalf of his country.
The Palestinian leadership has already rejected Washington’s undisclosed plan, citing Trump’s pro-Israel bias, and more delays for what the US president refers to as the “deal of the century” could push it into obscurity.
“Now it is the deal of the next century,” a senior Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, joked after the vote in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.
Dan Shapiro, a former US ambassador to Israel, said: “The Trump peace plan is on ice – maybe permanently.”
Kushner and the US’s Middle East envoy, Jason Greenblatt, arrived in Jerusalem on Wednesday evening, hours before Israel’s parliament voted to disband. Greenblatt visited the Western Wall that evening, and tweeted: “Lots to pray for!!”
On Thursday evening a US administration official said an economic conference in Bahrain next month was still going ahead. The conference forms the first part of the Kushner plan and Washington said it would focus on the potential financial incentives of a peace deal.
The idea is to persuade Arab Gulf countries to commit to billions in investment for the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The conference will not discuss thorny political issues such as Palestinian statehood.
So far, one Palestinian businessman has confirmed his attendance.
Kushner and Greenblatt began their regional tour in Morocco and were in Jordan on Wednesday.
Morocco did not publicly commit to attending the Bahrain conference. Jordan’s King Abdullah II released a statement that suggested he was at odds with the US delegation.
He insisted on the “need to intensify efforts to achieve a comprehensive and lasting peace based on the two-state solution that would guarantee the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital”. Trump has recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Kushner’s as-yet-unreleased plan is not expected to include Palestinian statehood but focuses on enticing Palestinian with investments, diplomats have said. While he has not rejected a two-state solution, the mainstay of previous rounds of negotiations, Kushner has criticised previous efforts along those lines.
With most of Jordan’s people of Palestinian descent, it will be hard for the king to agree to back a deal that does not include a Palestinian state.
The last round of US-brokered negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians broke down in 2014.