The Downfall of Crown Prince Kushner

March 7, 2018


The Downfall of Crown Prince Kushner

by Daniel B. Shapiro

It was always folly that Jared Kushner, a key example of Trump’s terrible, nepotistic distortion of American government, monopolized the U.S.-Israel relationship. Now he’s going down, how much further will critical decision-making deteriorate?

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The Downfall of President-in-Law Jared Kushner seen with his wife, First Daughter Ivanka Trump

Not since the November 1, 1973 meeting between Prime Minister Golda Meir, under fire for the failures that led to the Yom Kippur War, and President Richard Nixon, already deep into the Watergate scandal, have American and Israeli leaders met at a time of such internal political turmoil in both countries.

As thousands of advocates for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship gather in Washington for the annual AIPAC Policy Conference this week, the fraught situation in both governments raises the question of how to manage the U.S.-Israel relationship through choppy waters and bumpy roads.

There is no denying that President Trump is very friendly toward Israel. But more than good feelings are necessary to make the relationship as productive as it can be. Serious, professional work by well-organized governments makes a difference, too.

Already I can hear readers spitting out their coffee. What??! A representative of the Obama Administration will give lectures on how to manage the U.S.-Israel relationship? Wasn’t that a period of major bilateral tensions? Give me break!

The criticism is fair, up to a point, considering the far-too-frequent public disputes, which both sides contributed to, during those years. But it is also not the whole picture

During the same period that we had serious policy disagreements, most prominently over the Iran nuclear deal and the issue of West Bank settlements, the bilateral relationship grew significantly stronger in numerous ways.

It grew stronger in the area of security cooperation, which resulted in more frequent and more sophisticated joint military exercises, and culminated in the $38 billion military assistance Memorandum of Understanding, which will enable Israel to purchase at least 50 F-35 aircraft and maintain its qualitative military edge for decades.

An Iron Dome launcher fires an interceptor rocket in this Israeli Defence Force (IDF) handout image received on November 28, 2017
An Iron Dome launcher fires an interceptor rocket in this Israeli Defence Force (IDF) handout image received on November 28, 2017 IDF Spokesperson Unit/Handout via REUTERS


It grew stronger in intelligence cooperation, upgrading the partnership to a level of intimacy the United States enjoys with few other countries, and enabling more real-time sharing of information and strategic deployment of our assets against common threats.

It grew stronger in the area of technology development, especially in missile defense, leading to the full deployment of Iron Dome and breakthroughs in the development of David’s Sling and Arrow 3. Israel’s recent successes in detecting and destroying Hamas’s terrorist tunnels have also been enabled by a joint U.S.-Israeli research and development program launched in 2015.

It grew stronger in diplomatic coordination, as the two countries worked together week in and week out for eight years to snuff out or counter attempts to delegitimize Israel in international organizations, notwithstanding our disagreement on U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334 in December 2016.

It grew stronger in responding to disasters, such as when the entire U.S. interagency mobilized to help provide assistance to Israel during the 2010 Carmel fires.

And it grew stronger in the economic and commercial sphere, where the two governments advanced efforts to support the vibrant private sector partnership, by lowering barriers and increasing opportunities for investors and entrepreneurs in both countries to meet and work together.

What all these advances had in common was that they resulted from an effort, at least on the U.S. side, to ensure that the bilateral relationship, and the policy that guided it, were spread across all parts of our government.

The National Security Council at the White House provided the connective tissue between disparate initiatives, but there was a broad understanding across the government of what we were trying to achieve – a stronger, deeper partnership in all realms, and how each department could contribute.

U.S. United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and Middle East Envoy Jason Greenblatt wait for a meeting of the UN Security Council at UN headquarters in New York on February 20, 2018.
U.S. United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and Middle East Envoy Jason Greenblatt wait for a meeting of the UN Security Council at UN headquarters in New York\ LUCAS JACKSON/ REUTERS




There will always be a few key, high-level individuals managing the relationship and making decisions on the most sensitive matters, but others in the government need to be involved, informed, and coordinated.

Lately, one has the impression that the relationship has been shrunk down to three or four people on each side. Trump White House paranoia about the loyalty of career officials, whom they deride as the “deep state”, surely contributes. So does the failure to fill many senior State Department posts. Israeli coalition politics, with cabinet portfolios spread across multiple parties and no foreign minister, are a factor as well.

A structure like this one creates problems that benefit neither country. First, it makes it difficult for officials below the top level of government to follow-up on decisions made by their seniors. If a decision is made by the inner circle, but is not communicated to the working level, it may never be implemented. A poorly staffed government, as exists on the U.S. side, compounds the problem.

Israeli officials these days often have no counterpart to call, or only much more junior officials, clearly cut off from the decision-making level, which has clearly contributed to misunderstandings on sensitive issues, like the arrangements in southern Syria intended to keep Iranian forces and proxies away from the Israeli border.

Second, this structure weakens the United States in other ways, harming our ability to effectively support Israel in various arenas.

King Abdullah of Jordan, left, looks on as Jared Kushner talks with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and his wife during the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington D.C. Feb. 2, 2017
King Abdullah of Jordan, left, looks on as Jared Kushner talks with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and his wife during the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington D.C. Feb. 2, 2017Evan Vucci / AP



There has never been a Secretary of State as excluded from the U.S.-Israel relationship as Rex Tillerson. He has never made his own visit to Israel, and his regional tour, with no stop in Jerusalem, following the Iranian drone incursion on February 10, made him look irrelevant. Why would other governments take him seriously when he raises Israel’s concerns?

The absence of confirmed U.S. Aambassadors in Cairo, Amman, Riyadh, Doha, and Ankara underscores the department’s weakness and inhibits U.S. assistance to Israel in regional coordination against common threats, like Iran’s growing military entrenchment in Syria.

Finally, this structure injects chaos when someone leaves or gets in trouble. If all the eggs of the U.S.-Israel relationship are in Jared Kushner’s basket, what happens when that basket self-immolates, as is going on now? Over-investment in one or two individuals, no matter how supportive, actually weakens the structures that the bilateral relationship needs.

Other governments, particularly in the Gulf, have made a similar mistake, leaning far too heavily on Jared Kushner as the be-all and end-all of their relationships with the United States.

Ivanka Trump participates in a presentation ceremony of The Collar of Abdulaziz Al Saud Medal to President Donald Trump at the Royal Court Palace, Saturday, May 20, 2017, in Riyadh.
Ivanka Trump participates in a presentation ceremony of The Collar of Abdulaziz Al Saud Medal to President Donald Trump at the Royal Court Palace, Saturday, May 20, 2017, in Riyadh. Evan Vucci/AP


That’s because of the terrible distortion of the U.S. government under the Trump Administration – from a collection of professional departments to a family-run business, complete with a crown prince and blatant misuse of government positions to advance private commercial interests.

As Kushner goes down, those governments must ask themselves, now what?

During the Obama Administration, I sometimes heard it said that we were relentlessly on-message, that Israeli officials would hear the same thing from whoever they talked to on the U.S. side. I considered that to be a major compliment in the management of the administration.

That kind of coordination, which integrates all departments of government, actually gets more done. It enables serious follow-up and implementation of decisions. It avoids creating confusion and illusions about U.S. policy, by hearing different things from different people, both on issues where we agree and those where we differ. It ultimately makes for a healthier and stronger relationship, one that can weather even serious policy disagreements.

President Obama used to say that government officials are like runners in a relay race, carrying the baton for a while and then handing it off to the next runner. That is true across administrations, but it is also true during a single administration, when most people only serve in their posts for about two years.

When Jared Kushner has the baton pulled from his hand, who is going to carry it for the U.S.-Israel relationship in the coming years?

Daniel B. Shapiro is Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. He served as U.S. Ambassador to Israel, and Senior Director for the Middle East and North Africa, in the Obama Administration. Twitter: @DanielBShapiro


The Palestine Issue gives UMNO-BN the edge in GE-14

February 2018

The Palestine Issue gives UMNO-BN the edge in  GE-14

Author: Mohd Azizuddin Mohd Sani, Universiti Utara Malaysia


For the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition (BN), the Palestine issue is an opportunity to unite Malaysians ahead of the 14th general election, which will be held by July 2018 at the latest.

Concerns about Palestine bring out solidarity and sympathy among most Malaysians — Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Malaysian Muslims see the Palestinians as their brothers and sisters who they must help liberate from Israeli occupation. Jerusalem is particularly important to Malaysian Muslims since it is Islam’s third holy city after Mecca and Medina. Malaysian non-Muslims call for humanitarian efforts to assist the Palestinians, who they see as the victims of Israeli ‘apartheid’ and illegal occupation.

Image result for Mahathir and The Palestinian QuestionWe fiercely protest the proposal to make Jerusalem the capital of Israel,” said  Prime Minister Najib Razak to UMNO members

But solidarity on Palestine does not mean that there are no other divisions within the Muslim-Malay community. There are at least five parties representing Malays in Malaysia. The most dominant is the ruling party — the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO). A splinter group of UMNO that is led by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and former Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin formed an opposition party called Parti Peribumi Bersatu Malaysia. This party formed a coalition called Pakatan Harapan in 2015 with other Malay-dominated parties such as Parti Keadilan Rakyat, the Democratic Action Party and Parti Amanah Negara. Parti Amanah Negara is a splinter group of the Pan-Islamic Party (PAS) — a party with the long-term goal of creating an Islamic state in Malaysia.

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Pakatan Harapan’s Presumptive Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad refuses to be outdone on relations with Israel

Muslims constitute more than 60 per cent of the Malaysian population (approximately 32 million people) and over 80 per cent of Malaysian Muslims are ethnic Malays. As shown by the 2008 and 2013 general elections, Islam is a major issue that can sway votes needed to form a ruling coalition. Many Malaysian Muslims see Palestinian issues as religious issues, so the ruling Barisan Nasional government is presenting itself as the protector of Islam (as it has done in the past).

BN believes that if the party champions Islam, it will always have Muslim Malays’ support. This is why the ruling party works closely with the Islamic bureaucracy. In the 2018 national budget, the government provided additional financial resources to empower Islam and Islamic institutions. Senator Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki (Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of Islamic affairs) said on 1 December 2017 that ‘[in 2018] alone, the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia received an additional allocation of almost 1 billion Malaysian ringgit’ (approximately US$257 million).

The Deputy Minister further argued that the BN government was not shirking its responsibility of transforming Malaysia into an Islamic state. This statement of responsibility lured the support of PAS, which has openly showed interest in collaborating with the Barisan Nasional and UMNO in the upcoming general election. PAS’s intention is to have UMNO support the enactment of the hudud (Islamic criminal code) bill. The bill seeks to incorporate parts of Islamic law (such as stoning) into Malaysia’s existing legal system. It has yet to be passed by the Parliament, but regardless of its passage, UMNO and PAS will both favour a stricter interpretation of Islam.

Malaysia already has a national Islamisation policy with four objectives. The first is to make Islam a special religion with state sponsorship. The second is to make Sunni Islamic teaching — the dominant sect of Islam in the world — the teaching for all Muslims in Malaysia. The third is the empowerment of the Islamic bureaucracy through the Administration of Islamic Law Act. The final is to give legitimacy to the ruling Barisan Nasional party for championing Islamic issues such as constitutionally protecting Islam as the religion of the Federation in Malaysia.

So long as Najib favours a stricter interpretation of Islam, he keeps conservative Muslims and PAS on the same side as the Barisan Nasional and UMNO.

The opposition Pakatan Harapan has no clear agenda on Islamisation and although many Muslims want to see the coalition clinch power, it must be able to champion and protect Islam to gain popularity. So far, Pakatan Harapan has failed to show that they can uphold an Islamic agenda (let alone fight for Malay rights) and it has thereby failed to become an alternative to the Barisan Nasional.

If Pakatan Harapan fails to take such measures, the upcoming general election will see the majority of Muslims — particularly Muslim Malays — continue to vote for the Barisan Nasional and UMNO. As such, having no Islamic agenda means fewer votes for Pakatan Harapan and a win for the Barisan Nasional in Malaysia’s next general election.

Professor Dr Mohd Azizuddin Mohd Sani is a Professor of Politics and International Relations at the School of International Studies, Universiti Utara Malaysia.


Playing to The Parochial and Sentimental Malay Gallery: The Israeli visit

February 20, 2018

Playing to The Parochial and Sentimental Malay Gallery: The Israeli visit

by Dato’ Dennis Ignatius

Image result for Najib at the UN with Bibi of Israel

Why not use of our soft power to improve our relations with Israel and help the Palestinians in the process? One way to promote better understanding is to allow Malaysians to visit Israel where they will learn about technology and innovation. The Jewish state will not disappear from the face of the Earth. Din Merican

…the world is changing and changing rapidly and no more so than in the Middle East. We must find new ways to accomplish long-held objectives. Rigid positions and knee-jerk reactions might make for good domestic politics but they do little to advance our interests or help the Palestinian people. Instead of making a big issue about their presence here, we should have seized the opportunity to informally engage the Israelis about Palestine.–Ambassador Dennis Ignatius

COMMENT | Israel’s recent participation in the World Urban Forum (WUF) in Kuala Lumpur from 7-13 February has predictably aroused controversy.

Given our myopic views and anti-Semitism, anything Israeli or Jewish always makes for great political drama and is quickly exploited by political parties to score cheap points and burnish their Islamic credentials.

Playing to the gallery

Pro-government groups routinely accuse the DAP, for example, of collaborating with the Jewish state as when they infamously accused the DAP of secretly plotting to set up an Israeli military base in Malaysia.

And who can forget how skilfully the government manipulated and exploited Trump’s decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem with mammoth rallies and stirring speeches about their commitment to Palestine?

Playing to the gallery, Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak (photo) pompously declared: “We will not budge in our defence for the plight of the Palestinians… even if it means cutting me up into pieces, leaving behind only one piece of ‘meat’, we will not budge.”

The trouble with this approach is that it encourages others to play the same game as Amanah and PKR are now doing.

When news broke that Israeli officials participated in the WUF, one Harapan MP demanded to know whether Malaysia was softening its stance on Israel by allowing the aforementioned Israeli officials to enter the country.

Saying that the “move had caused shock and sadness among many Muslims in the country,” he asked whether the government had “pawned the pride of Muslims in matters concerning Israel just for the sake of money and trade?”

Even, PAS, notwithstanding its own ongoing scheming and connivance with UMNO, couldn’t resist taking a dig at the government by suggesting that the decision to admit Israeli diplomats proved that UMNO was “untrustworthy”.

And, of course, there is no shortage of Muslim NGOs ready to be outraged at the drop of a hat. “The decision by the Malaysian government to issue visas to senior-level [Israeli] delegates to enter [Malaysia] is shocking and most regretful,” a coalition of NGOs griped

Just another UN meeting

In reality, it’s all much ado about nothing.The simple fact, as Foreign Minister Anifah Aman (photo) rightly clarified, is that the Israelis were here to attend a UN conference, nothing more.

As a UN member and host, Malaysia has certain obligations including allowing all UN members to attend. It is for the same reason that the US permits North Korea and Iran, both of which it cannot abide and does not have diplomatic relations with, to travel to New York to attend UN meetings.

Israel’s attendance at the WUF does not, therefore, imply recognition or a change in policy. There is nothing sinister about it and those who have chosen to make an issue of it are doing so for purely political reasons.

Keeping Israel out

Of course, there are those who will argue that under such circumstances it is better not to host international conferences, but that is both irrational and illogical and does not serve our interests.

Why should we cut ourselves off from the rest of the world just to keep Israel out?

Those who demand that trade relations between Malaysia and Israel be banned are also ignorant about how interconnected the world economy has become.

Goods, services, technology and investments cross borders in many different ways irrespective of whether or not there are direct linkages. Waze, the popular app used by millions of Malaysians to navigate our increasingly complicated highways, for example, is an Israeli invention. It hasn’t stopped us from using it no matter what our views about Israel are.

Engaging Israel

The fact is, the world is changing and changing rapidly and no more so than in the Middle East. We must find new ways to accomplish long-held objectives. Rigid positions and knee-jerk reactions might make for good domestic politics but they do little to advance our interests or help the Palestinian people.

Instead of making a big issue about their presence here, we should have seized the opportunity to informally engage the Israelis about Palestine.

It would have certainly done more to help the Palestinians than the noisy demonstrations and empty rhetoric that have become a substitute for meaningful policy these days. But, of course, that requires courage and real leadership.

DENNIS IGNATIUS is a former Malaysian Ambassador.


Malaysia’s Chickenhawk Defense Minister’s Empty Talk On Jerusalem Issue

December 15, 2017

Malaysia’s Chickenhawk Defense Minister’s Empty Talk On Jerusalem Issue

by S.

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“A soldier is someone’s son or father or brother,” he said. “The public has a right to know where we are sending our soldiers and why.”–– Mohd Arshad Raji, retired Brigadier-General

COMMENT | Chickenhawk politicians are usually extremely gung-ho about military action, especially when nobody holds them accountable for their words. Kudos to Rais Hussin and P Ramasamy for calling out Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein on his extremely cavalier reminder that the Malaysian security apparatus is ready for action when it comes to the Jerusalem issue.

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Malaysia’s Chickenhawk  Defense Minister –Hishamuddin Hussein Onn

I wonder what would have happened that if instead of international mockery, someone took up Malaysia’s preparedness to send troops to Jerusalem? What would have been the response then? Would we have backtracked and attempted to explain that in Malaysia, establishment politicians can say anything they want but they cannot be held accountable for what they say?>

On the other hand, maybe what the current UMNO grand poohbah said in his big meet-up in Istanbul with other concerned Muslim potentates that US investments trumps any real action to go with that outrage, is a more acceptable solution? And let us not forget the ever-reliable strategy of dragging the United Nations to voice out whatever grievances that Muslim potentates claim on behalf of Palestinians.

In other words, the Defence Minister’s words were just more empty talk to burnish Malaysia’s increasingly joked about Islamic preoccupations on the world stage. No doubt whatever we learned from whatever we were doing in Saudi Arabia would have come in handy if we decided to ship our lads to Israel. Speaking of what we learned in Saudi Arabia, I am still unclear as to why we were there in the first place.

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22 members of Malaysian Armed Forces receiving their certificates and medals from Saudi Government for services rendered during  Ops Yeman since May, 2015.

In 2015, Arab News, under the chest thumping headline, ‘Malaysian troops join Arab coalition’, claimed that – “Malaysia has become the 12th country to join the coalition after Senegal which is sending 2,100 troops to fight the Houthis and the forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The Ministry of Defence explained that the coalition’s operations centre is preparing for incorporating the Malaysian and Senegalese forces into the ranks and determining the nature of tasks assigned to them.”

Now, of course, under questioning by Amanah, among others, we are told by the Defense Minister that all we were doing there, besides “learning” that is, was evacuating Malaysians who were in Yemen. Why we need to “join a coalition” and send troops to evacuate Malaysian citizens when there are so many other less controversial and effective means of evacuation is beyond me.

Amanah, of course, loses points because one of their predictable concerns was that the presence of Malaysians troops there is awkward “because Western powers such as France and Britain were also present. These countries, the opposition party said, had anti-Islam policies” – which is dumb because thousands of Yemeni Muslims are butchered by another Muslim country.

A learning expedition

Of course, ever since the House of Saud got entangled in the 1MDB fiasco, Malaysia seems to have become extremely chummy with the Kingdom. Indeed, not only was the visit by the Saudi monarch memorable for reasons, which is beyond the scope of this piece but which I have documented elsewhere, we even managed to foil an assassination attempt allegedly planned by Yemeni operatives.

Image result for Najib and Saudi KIng


As reported in The Independent, Malaysia foils ‘Yemeni attack’ on Saudi Arabia’s King Salman’ – “Malaysian police said they foiled an attack on Arab royals by suspected Yemeni militants.

“Seven militants, including four Yemenis, two Malaysians and one Indonesian, were arrested in separate raids ahead of Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz’s visit to Kuala Lumpur…

“‘They were planning to attack Arab royalties during their visit to Kuala Lumpur. We got them in the nick of time,’ National Police Chief Khalid Abu Bakar told reporters.”

To our former IGP, getting terrorists in the nick of time is not something you want to be proud about and certainly not something you publicise. Now of course, if people who are at war with the House of Saud realised that we were in the kingdom not as allies but merely “learning” and evacuating citizens, they would be more inclined not to view citizens of where they were planning their attacks as collateral damage. And please note, a Malaysian citizen was also part of the kill team.

With this Jerusalem move, Al-Qaeda has called upon all Muslim nations to destroy Israel and this only makes it more complicated when we have citizens in this country who support these Islamic extremists for various reasons.

The United Nations has reported on the human rights violations that have been carried out by Saudi forces (and their allies) – which they deny – but of course, Malaysia only response that it was in fact only there on a learning expedition. Now how do you think this sounds to a demographic of disenfranchised Muslim Malaysian youths who seem to be ripe for radicalisation?

Already the plight of the Yemeni people has gained traction among a certain crowd of tech-savvy youths all over the Muslim world who blame the House of Saud for perpetrating crimes on innocent Muslims.

Way back in 2014, Harezt ran an interesting piece on why the Islamic State was not too interested in attacking Israel – “The Islamic State’s target bank contains a long list of Arab leaders – including the Saudi and Jordanian kings, the Prime Minister of Iraq, the president of Egypt and even the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood – before it gets to the Jews and Israel.”

So, while Jerusalem may not exactly be the issue that ignites Islamic radicalisation in this country, the alleged atrocities committed by the House of Saud and their allies, which includes Western powers and their Muslim proxies, may be ripe soft targets for radicalised Muslim youths who benefit from organisations like Islamic State who have declared Southeast Asia as their new theatre of war and destruction.

Now, I am not saying that Malaysia has troops fighting in Yemen – I have no evidence of this – I am just saying that for radicalised Muslim youths in the region latching on to the plight of the Yemenis, it will not make a difference.

Trump’s Jerusalem Rationale and its Consequences

December 14, 2015

Trump’s Jerusalem Rationale and its Consequences

The US administration seems to believe that Saudi Arabia and other Arab governments are so concerned with the perceived Iranian threat that they will put aside their long-standing hostility toward Israel. The problem is that the new Saudi crown prince’s highest priority – to consolidate his power – may lead him to reject a peacemaking role.

Image result for Richard N. Haas on Jerusalem


NEW YORK – It is 50 years since the Six-Day War – the June 1967 conflict that, as much as any other event, continues to define the Israeli-Palestinian impasse. After the fighting was over, Israel controlled all of the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem, in addition to the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights.

Back then, the world saw this military outcome as temporary. United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, the backdrop to what was to become a diplomatic solution to the problem of the stateless Palestinians, was adopted some five months after the war ended. But, as is often the case, what began as temporary has lasted.

This is the context in which President Donald Trump recently declared that the United States recognized Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital. Trump stated that the US was not taking a position on the final status of Jerusalem, including “the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty” there. He made clear that the US would support a two-state solution if agreed to by both sides. And he chose not to begin actually moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv, even though he could have simply relabeled what is now the US consulate in Jerusalem.

The attempt to change US policy while arguing that little had changed did not persuade many. Most Israelis were pleased with the new US stance, and most in the Arab world and beyond were incensed.

Just why Trump chose this moment to make this gesture is a matter of conjecture. The president suggested it was simply recognition of reality and that his predecessors’ policy failure to do so had failed to yield any diplomatic benefits. This is true, although the reason diplomacy failed over the decades had nothing to do with US policy toward Jerusalem, and everything to do with divisions among Israelis and Palestinians and the gaps between the two sides.

Others have attributed the US announcement to American domestic politics, a conclusion supported by the unilateral US statement’s failure to demand anything of Israel (for example, to restrain settlement construction) or offer anything to the Palestinians (say, supporting their claim to Jerusalem). Although the decision has led to some violence, it looks more like an opportunity lost than a crisis created.

What made this statement not just controversial but potentially counterproductive is that the Trump administration has spent a good part of its first year putting together a plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This announcement could well weaken that plan’s already limited prospects.

What the Trump administration seems to have in mind is to give outsiders, and Saudi Arabia in particular, a central role in peacemaking. Informing this approach is the view that Saudi Arabia and other Arab governments are more concerned with the perceived threat from Iran than with anything to do with Israel. As a result, it is assumed that they are prepared to put aside their long-standing hostility toward Israel, a country that largely shares their view of Iran.

Progress on the Israeli-Palestinian issue would create a political context in the Arab world that would allow them to do just this. The hope in the Trump administration is that the Saudis will use their financial resources to persuade the Palestinians to agree to make peace with Israel on terms Israel will accept.

Image result for Trump and KushnerPresident Donald J. Trump and his Mid-East Expert-Advsor Jared Kushner


The problem is that the only plan to which this Israeli government is likely to agree will offer the Palestinians far less than they have historically demanded. If so, the Palestinian leaders themselves may well determine it is safer to say no than to sign on to a plan sure to disappoint many of their own people and leave them vulnerable to Hamas and other radical groups.

The Saudis, too, may be reluctant to be associated with a plan that many will deem a sellout. The top priority for the new Saudi leadership under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is to consolidate power, which the prince is doing by associating himself with an effort to attack corruption in the Kingdom and by pursuing a nationalist, anti-Iranian foreign policy.

But neither tactic is going entirely according to plan. The anti-corruption effort, while so far popular, risks being tarnished by selective prosecution of offenders (which suggests that it is more about power than reform) and reports about the crown prince’s own lifestyle. And the anti-Iran efforts have become inseparable from what has become an unpopular war in Yemen and diplomatic embarrassments in Lebanon and Qatar. Meanwhile, ambitious plans to reform the country are proving easier to design than to implement, and are sure to alienate more conservative elements.

The problem for Trump and Jared Kushner, his son-in-law who leads US policy in this area, is that the Saudis are likely to prove much less of a diplomatic partner than the White House had counted on. If the new crown prince is worried about his domestic political standing, he will be reluctant to stand shoulder to shoulder with an American president seen as too close to an Israel that is unwilling to satisfy even minimal Palestinian requirements for statehood.

Image result for Richard N. Haas on JerusalemRichard N. Haas

All of which brings us back to Jerusalem. Trump argued that recognizing the city as Israel’s capital was “a long overdue step to advance the peace process and the work towards a lasting agreement.” More and more it appears that Trump’s move will have just the opposite effect.