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Kushner says Trump close to decision on Jerusalem recognition

Kushner addressed an audience at an annual meeting of Israeli and US policy-makers. [Getty]

Date of publication: 4 December, 2017

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US President Donald Trump is close to making a decision on whether to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital, his son-in-law and Middle East envoy Jared Kushner said on Sunday.
US President Donald Trump is close to making a decision on whether to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital, his son-in-law and Middle East envoy Jared Kushner said on Sunday.

Palestinian officials are lobbying against such a move, while the Arab League chief Ahmed Abul Gheit said the shift in policy would boost violence while sinking hopes for peace.

But Kushner, the 36-year-old head of a small and tight-
knit White House negotiating team, made a rare public appearance to put an optimistic face on his efforts.

"The president's going to make his decision," Kushner told the Saban Forum, choosing not to deny reports Trump will declare Jerusalem Israel's capital on Wednesday.

"He's still looking at a lot of different facts and when he makes his decision he'll be the one who wants to tell you. So he'll make sure he does that at the right time."

On Monday, Trump must decide whether to sign a legal waiver that would delay plans to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem for another six months.

Trump is expected to announce in a speech on Wednesday that he supports Israel's claim on Jerusalem as its capital.

Every US president has done this since 1995, judging the time not ripe for such a move, and Trump is expected to begrudgingly do so for a second time this week.

But, according to diplomats and observers, he is also now expected to announce in a speech on Wednesday that he supports Israel's claim on Jerusalem as its capital.

Renewed violence?

Arab League leader Abul Gheit meanwhile said his organisation was closely following the issue and is in contact with Palestinian officials and Arab states to coordinate the Arab position if Trump takes the step.

"It is unfortunate that some are insisting on carrying out this step without any regard to the dangers it carries to the stability of the Middle East and the whole world," he told reporters in Cairo on Sunday.

"Nothing justifies this act... it will not serve peace or stability, instead it will nourish fanaticism and violence," said Abul Gheit.

Palestinians have been lobbying regional leaders to oppose the decision and Hamas has called for a new "intifada."

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas spoke to Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh late Sunday, a Hamas statement said, with the two sides agreeing their opposition to any shift in US policy.

The rare call between the two comes as attempts at implementing a reconciliation deal have faltered in recent days.

But Kushner, addressing a sympathetic audience at an annual meeting of Israeli and US policy-makers hosted by businessman Haim Saban, said he sees grounds for optimism.

The real estate developer turned presidential adviser is working closely with Israeli officials and has developed ties with the young Saudi and Emirati monarchs. 

He said he sees an opportunity for peace if the Sunni Arab countries of the region align themselves with Israel in opposition to the threat of Iran. 

Israel's Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu shares this hope, although he dares hope an accommodation with Arab countries could precede any Palestinian deal.

Kushner, in common with US official thinking under previous administrations, sees a Israeli-Palestinian settlement as coming before any great re-alignment.

"You've got to focus on solving the big issue," he told a friendly but sceptical Saban, and an audience of dignitaries and policy experts.

Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, warned that a change in the US stance on Jerusalem would spell disaster.

"The regional dynamic plays a big role in what we think the opportunities are because... a lot of these countries look and say they all want the same thing. 

"And they look at the regional threats and I think that they see Israel, who is traditionally their foe, is a much more natural ally to them than it was 20 years ago," Kushner added.

"You've a lot of people who want to put this together, but you have to overcome this issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in order for that to happen."

Despite the US push to revive peace talks, Palestinian officials have so far expressed impatience with Kushner's slow start, saying they have received no clear vision from the US on the direction or substance of talks.

Trump's ambiguity around the two-state solution - a key position of the EU - has also complicated peace efforts, while top officials in Trump's administration are overtly pro-Israel.

Undermine peace efforts

Earlier, Netanyahu also addressed the forum by video link from Israel, and spoke of the opportunity for reconciliation in the region.

His focus, however, was firmly on the threat of Iran which he compared to Nazi Germany in its alleged determination to "murder Jews".

His address barely touched on the Palestinian issue, but did speak of regional peace, under a longer timeframe than the one Kushner has in mind.

"And that's just one reason why I'm so hopeful about the future. Today Israel is more welcomed by the nations of the world than ever before," Netanyahu said.

"When I look forward 50 and 100 years, I believe Israel will be embraced openly by its Arab neighbours rather than in secret in the way it's done today."

Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, was less optimistic, warning a change in the US stance on Jerusalem would spell disaster.

In a statement, he warned the United States would "be disqualifying itself to play any role in any initiative towards achieving a just and lasting peace."

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