America's Foreign Policy 'Experts' Are Projecting Their Own Failures Onto Jared Kushner | Opinion

For the past four years, there was no greater laughingstock in the American foreign policy cognoscenti than Jared Kushner. A full-on consensus reigned that cast the previous administration's Middle East policies as hopelessly ignorant and one-sided, a view that went unchallenged in the smart set's Op-Ed pages. There was no easier laugh to be had, no quicker way to pull a nodding agreement, than to mock the intelligence and good will of the former president's son-in-law, charged with crafting an American peace plan, and obviously in way over his head.

But the Young Pretender in charge of the Mideast portfolio is gone, and the mommies and daddies are back in charge, their think tanks falling over each other producing glossy full-color booklets promoting policies that would bring to bear the priorities of people who actually understood a thing or two about Israelis, Palestinians, international law, justice, and most importantly, American strategic interests.

And four months into the methodical implementation of all the bright ideas reflecting off those glossy booklets, the situation on the ground in Israel and the Palestinian Territories has taken a dramatic turn for the worst.

Though Kushner is long gone, this latest conflagration has been laid at his feet. His name trended on Twitter for days as hostilities between Israel and Hamas escalated. "They really put Jared Kushner, the slumlord millionaire who couldn't properly fill out security clearance forms, in charge of Peace in the Middle East. Failure was inevitable," read one viral tweet. "Kushner's Absurd Peace Plan Has Failed" blared the headline to Michelle Goldberg's New York Times column.

They really put Jared Kushner, the slumlord millionaire who couldn't properly fill out security clearance forms, in charge of Peace in the Middle East.

Failure was inevitable.

— BrooklynDad_Defiant! (@mmpadellan) May 17, 2021

This is not just wrong; it's complete projection. Kushner-era policies—on Jerusalem, UNRWA, and regional diplomacy—were promised again and again to lead to an "explosion," but didn't. The return of the experts was supposed to improve lives and prospects for Israelis and Palestinians alike, but hasn't. In fact, it was the foreign policy intelligentsia's values and vision that have led to disaster.

Back in March, mere weeks into the new Biden administration, a leaked internal State Department memo outlined the contours of a new direction on American policy toward the Palestinian issue. The document called for renewed diplomatic ties with the Palestinian Authority, restoring aid that had been cut, renewing American contributions to UNRWA, putting pressure on Israel for moves in Jerusalem that would make a new Palestinian Authority election possible, and pursuing a two-state arrangement based roughly on the pre-1967 lines.

These were all priorities of the smart set miffed by a previous administration that was too close to Israel for their tastes. But they were also terrible ideas. Take the renewal of UNRWA funding. UNRWA is the U.N. agency dedicated to perpetuating, rather than solving, the Palestinian refugee problem. By cultivating the myth of a non-existent "right of return" rather than rehabilitating displaced persons and their descendants, UNRWA ensures that a negotiated two-state deal cannot be reached.

What possible U.S. interest is served by rescuing an institution that actively works against U.S. policies and interests?

Jared Kushner
Former White House Senior Advisor Jared Kushner listens as US President Donald Trump visits his campaign headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, November 3, 2020. - A bitterly divided America was going to the polls on Tuesday amid the worst pandemic in a century and an economic crisis to decide whether to give President Donald Trump four more years or send Democrat Joe Biden to the White House. A record-breaking number of early votes -- more than 100 million -- have already been cast in an election that has the nation on edge and is being closely watched in capitals around the world. Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

But it was the election issue that ended up being the most fateful, and it was another huge smart set mistake to include it on the leaked wish list. Elections have not been held in the Palestinian Territories since 2006, and for good reason: Involving Hamas in the election would risk handing control of the West Bank to the terrorist group that already rules Gaza. Banning them from the election would risk undermining the process. And cancelling the election promised to invite a violent provocation from Hamas to assert its primacy in Palestinian politics.

That is exactly what happened in the end; we're seeing that violence unfold right now. Who could have foreseen this eventuality? Anyone, actually, with any understanding of the region. So why weren't these scenarios carefully considered before any of this disaster started to unfold?

If the leak of the memo is to be believed, the issue that concerned the State Department was pushing Israel to allow voting in East Jerusalem along the lines of previous elections. And it revealed how ridiculous the mindset that authored it is.

The fundamental problem of the election has nothing to do with Israel. It's that a terrorist organization whose charter calls for genocide is actually quite popular in Palestinian politics and could be poised to bring to the West Bank the governance it has already brought to the Gaza Strip. And this was something the U.S. administration seemed to believe would just solve itself.

Until it didn't. With the election first called and then cancelled, Hamas had to make a bid for its supremacy in Palestinian politics. Using the playbook that has suited Palestinian factions since at least 1928, it sought a "provocation" related to al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem as an excuse for violence, and then began lobbing rockets into Israeli cities. A grimly predictable escalation ensued with no sign of how or when it might end.

One again, the reign of peace process experts lead to spasms of violence.

When this happens, and then an interregnum of policy by people mocked by experts leads to four mostly quiet years, and then the return of the experts leads to a new round of violence, it's fair to ask if there might be a pattern and what might lie behind it. Instead, the smart commentary chose to pin the current failures, however implausibly, on Kushner himself. It brings to mind the repeated insistence in the 1990's after each suicide bombing and each Arafat pronouncement about jihad, that the Oslo framework was a good one and its Israeli critics were just opposed to peace.

Whether he was aware of it or not, Kushner's approach to peacemaking in the Middle East was based on three core assumptions: First, that there really was an Arab-Israeli conflict. Second, Israel largely won that conflict. And third, acknowledging this is not a bad thing.

The upshot of this was a regional diplomatic push on peace moves that could benefit all interested parties and an end to the pattern of incentivizing rejectionism by rewarding each new round of violence with better terms for the side that rejected peace, initiated war, and was defeated.

This didn't involve any new ideas in conflict resolution, but rather the application of standard diplomatic procedure that has been used in mediating international conflict in nearly every context for centuries—except, for some reason, conflicts involving the Jewish state.

Why that was treated as such a great departure from precedent and common sense by people smart enough to know better is a separate question. It certainly wasn't because their approach has brought anything remotely resembling better results.

Shany Mor is an adjunct fellow at The Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and a lecturer at IDC Herzliya.

The views in this article are the writer's own.