Kushner meets Israeli PM amid breakthrough hopes

Associated Press

Jerusalem — President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and chief Middle East adviser, Jared Kushner, made his first solo visit to the region Wednesday, holding separate meetings with the Israeli and Palestinian leaders in an attempt to restart long-dormant peace talks.

Sitting down with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Kushner and other U.S. officials discussed “potential next steps” to make progress on Trump’s goal of “a genuine and lasting peace” between Israelis and Palestinians, the White House said. The meetings are aimed at laying the groundwork for a resumption of negotiations for the first time in three years.

“The United States officials and Israeli leadership underscored that forging peace will take time and stressed the importance of doing everything possible to create an environment conducive to peacemaking,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer said.

Kushner, whose family has a long relationship with Netanyahu, met with the Israeli leader in Jerusalem for about 3½ hours before heading to the West Bank city of Ramallah for a late-night meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

The Trump administration faces the same obstacles that have doomed previous attempts by a string of Republican and Democratic administrations: deep disagreements over key issues such as borders, dueling claims to Jerusalem and the fate of millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants.

But Kushner enjoys some advantages that could allow him to make at least some progress. Trump made a successful visit to the region last month and appears to have forged a good working relationship with both sides.

The new atmosphere of goodwill, along with concerns of potentially provoking the unpredictable president, could give Trump leverage in extracting concessions from the sides.

Netanyahu’s office released a short video showing Kushner, along with envoy Jason Greenblatt and U.S. Ambassador David Friedman, arriving at the Israeli premier’s office in Jerusalem.

Netanyahu warmly greeted Kushner with a smile and hug. “This is an opportunity to pursue our common goals of security, prosperity and peace,” Netanyahu said.

“The president sends his best regards and it’s an honor to be here with you,” Kushner said.

Reporters were barred from covering the meetings and did not have an opportunity to ask Kushner questions.

Trump has tasked Kushner with the ambitious goal of laying the groundwork for what he calls the “ultimate deal” — but deep divisions remain, clouding chances of a significant breakthrough in one of the longest Mideast crises.

This month marked the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Mideast war — a seminal event in which Israel captured the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.