Kushner, Greenblatt meet Morocco king – Palestinian leaders sharply critical of effort

RABAT: US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner met Morocco’s King Mohammed VI on Tuesday in Rabat as part of a fresh push on a long-promised but yet-to-be-delivered peace plan for the region. The trip – which will also include stops in Amman and Jerusalem – comes amid a flurry of other administration moves to shore up alliances with Arab allies against Iran and the deployment of warships and bombers to the region.

Kushner is accompanied by Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s special representative for international negotiations, and Brian Hook, the special US representative for Iran. The meeting in Rabat focused on developments in the Middle East and North Africa as well as strengthening the partnership between Morocco and the US, a palace spokesman told AFP. Greenblatt tweeted that he and Kushner shared an iftar dinner – the traditional meal to break the daily fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan – with Morocco’s king, Crown Prince Moulay Hassan and Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita.

“Thank you to His Majesty for a special evening and for sharing your wisdom,” Greenblatt wrote. “Morocco is an important friend & ally of the United States.” The Trump administration is expected to unveil the peace plan – after numerous failures by its predecessors – possibly as early as next month, but the Palestinians have already rejected it as heavily biased in favor of Israel. Washington has yet to commit to an exact timetable with respect to the political aspects of the plan.

Kushner also will attend the Bilderberg conference in Montreux, Switzerland, where he is expected to be a speaker, at the end of the week and then will meet Trump in London when the latter makes a state visit there next week. The trip is similar to one that Kushner and Greenblatt took in February to Gulf states to drum up support for the economic portion of a Middle East peace plan they have been developing on behalf of Trump.

Kushner is the chief architect of the proposal and Greenblatt, a longtime Trump lawyer, has served as his right-hand man on the Middle East initiative. Upon his arrival in the White House more than two years ago, Trump proclaimed his ambition to secure a final accord ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But the odds of his succeeding where every previous US president – Republicans as well as Democrats – have failed appear particularly low. Palestinians have boycotted the process since Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in Dec 2017.

RABAT: A handout picture provided by the Moroccan Royal Palace late Tuesday shows Moroccan King Mohammed VI (center) and his son Crown Prince Moulay Hassan (right) sharing an iftar meal with Senior Advisor to the President of the US Jared Kushner (left) at the Royal Residence. —AFP

Bahrain conference
The US is expected to roll out the economic aspects of the peace plan at a conference in Bahrain on June 25-26. Co-hosts US and Bahrain have billed it as “a pivotal opportunity… to share ideas, discuss strategies and galvanize support for potential economic investments and initiatives that could be made possible by a peace agreement.” But Palestinian political leaders say they will boycott it and Palestinian business leaders said they won’t go either, raising further questions about the plan’s viability. “Any economic project without a political solution is selling an illusion,” said Arafat Asfour, chairman of the Palestine Trade Center.

“We didn’t mandate anyone to negotiate on our behalf, and if anyone wants to trade the interests of the Palestinians for their own benefit, let them do it out of their own pockets,” chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Reuters. “We urge all Arabs who have accepted to go to Bahrain to reconsider out of respect for the Palestinians,” he said. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have said they will participate, and a senior US official said officials from Qatar have said privately their country was expected to attend as well.

The Russian foreign ministry took a dim view of the conference in a statement on Tuesday, saying the United States was attempting to “impose an ‘alternative vision’ of the Palestinian-Israeli settlement”. “The Palestinian leadership has already categorically refused to take part, saying that the PLO will not surrender to anyone its exclusive rights to make crucial decisions regarding the realization of Palestinians’ national aspirations,” it said.

Among those declining an invitation was Bashar Al-Masri, a high-profile Palestinian businessman who worked with international partners and in cooperation with the Israelis to invest $1.4 billion in the new Palestinian town of Rawabi. Kushner, who will join up with Trump in London after his Middle East trip, has been evasive about the US plan, which has been shrouded in secrecy. While promising new ideas to revive a moribund peace process, he has refused to talk about a two-state solution, the formula that has long been at the heart of international efforts to achieve peace and also the official US position.

Instead, he has looked to an alliance with the Saudis against Iran as a way to gain Arab support for his plan. Three days before Kushner’s trip, Trump authorized $8.1 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other Arab allies, bypassing Congress. Arms sales to the kingdom were frozen after the assassination of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi in October and in response to mounting concerns over the human toll of a Saudi-led armed campaign in Yemen. But the administration defended the sales as necessary “to deter Iranian aggression and build partner self-defense capacity.” – Agencies