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Critics Call Kushner's Mideast Peace Plan 'Dangerously Simplistic'


President Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is in the Middle East trying to sell the administration's vision for peace.


JARED KUSHNER: Some people have mockingly called this effort the deal of the century. But at its core, it is not just about making a deal. In fact, this effort is better referred to as the opportunity of the century.

INSKEEP: Fair enough. Kushner's plan doesn't actually offer a deal for Middle East peace. It offers incentives to get there. It involves $50 billion in investments in Palestinian territories, as well as surrounding countries. And it proposes a transport link between the two Palestinian areas, Gaza and the West Bank, even though it does not include a political solution. Daniel Shapiro has been skeptical of this approach. He was the United States ambassador to Israel under President Obama between 2011 and 2017. He's on the line.

Good morning.

DANIEL SHAPIRO: Good morning. Good to be with you.

INSKEEP: What's wrong with putting incentives on the table in this way?

SHAPIRO: First of all, there are a lot of good ideas in the plan - infrastructure projects, transportation links, open markets, many things that have been proposed before in other economic plans. But the problem is - there are two problems, really. One is that the United States had a number of assistance programs aimed at supporting all those goals. And President Trump has cancelled all of our assistance to the Palestinian Authority and even to the Palestinian people. So our own credibility to go to others and ask them to invest in something we've divested from is quite in question. But the bigger...

INSKEEP: But isn't this - this is the president's approach commonly, right? He thinks in terms of leverage. He thinks in terms of imposing pain. And instead of getting the benefits, he's taken them away and now offered them back if there's a solution. Is that a fair way to think of this?

SHAPIRO: Perhaps, but the bigger problem is that there is no political content, no political overlay that explains what it is we're trying to achieve. Previous economic plans have been offered in the context of describing a two-state solution in which Palestinians and Israelis would both achieve their core objectives. Now it's very much in question whether or not the administration actually believes that a two-state solution with an independent, if somewhat sovereignty-limited Palestinian state would emerge is really part of the plan. And I think that will be a big constraint on certainly Palestinians buying into this plan - they've boycotted this conference - but I think most Arab governments and most European governments also and even private sector companies will withhold investment until they have a better understanding of the political backdrop on which they're being asked to invest.

INSKEEP: So you're emphasizing this doesn't address the three basic things in a peace plan - what are the borders between two states? Who gets what parts of Jerusalem? Where do refugees fit into all of this? But there is this intriguing detail of proposing a transportation corridor between Gaza and the West Bank, which is not the first time anybody has proposed such a thing. What do you make of that particular item?

SHAPIRO: Well, it's very much what should be on the table as part of a two-state solution. We want to see the West Bank and Gaza reunited as one political entity. That, of course, also includes getting Hamas, a terrorist organization that rules Gaza, out of power and having a more moderate Palestinian leadership reassert control there. So it's very much something that should be part of this plan. But, again, I find it hard to imagine that most countries or most private sector companies will agree to invest in such a major infrastructure project like that if they don't really know who the sovereign powers - they don't really know whether there's stability and predictability and what kind of governance there will be on both ends of that transportation link.

INSKEEP: I want people to know that after your service for the United States and Israel, you are living in Israel and watching things closely, which is why I'd now like to know, do you believe that Israeli and Palestinian leaders actually want a peace agreement at this time?

SHAPIRO: I think the current leaders are probably not the leaders who are going to be able to achieve this agreement. They have been through several rounds of failed negotiations. They mistrust each other deeply. They both faced very, very challenging domestic political circumstances. I think the goal of the Trump administration - or any U.S. administration now and maybe in the near term - should be not to try to achieve a two-state solution but rather to try to keep that option alive for later. It will probably be under different leaders who will take risks and perhaps invest in each other and build some trust beyond what is possible for the two current leaders. And so I hope it's still possible and viable when that time comes.

INSKEEP: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, of course, is facing another election. Does he face any domestic political pressure to make some kind of agreement? Or is it exactly the opposite, really?

SHAPIRO: It's actually the opposite. Most Israelis are very skeptical that a two-state solution can be achieved. They don't see a Palestinian partner. Frankly, most Palestinian partners feel the same way. So that's not the driver at the moment. The driver of Israeli politics at the moment is more about the prime minister's personal circumstances, the fact that he is facing some corruption charges, and that will probably determine whether he wins or loses the next election.

INSKEEP: Ambassador, always appreciate your insights.

Thanks so much.

SHAPIRO: My pleasure.

INSKEEP: Daniel Shapiro was the United States ambassador to Israel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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