Tel Aviv Diary: Jared Kushner's Inane Plan Kicks Off a Very Weird Middle East Summer

Maybe it's the summer heat that has engulfed Tel Aviv like a steam cloud, but the world seems a little upside down. On Tuesday evening, I sat in the i24News studio and listened to Jared Kushner speak as he opened the Economic Conference in Bahrain, aimed at identifying and implementing the economic component of his solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The absurdity and disconnect from reality of his remarks seemed to permeate the air.

Kushner spoke about how the Palestinian economy suffers from the fact its borders are militarized. He cited one Palestinian businessman who complained how hard it was to get concrete for new construction. Kushner accentuated the difficulty of getting foreign investment, given that people fear terrorism. These things are true. However, the predicament is that the only way to solve these problems is to reach a political agreement to end the conflict, which received barely any mention. Kushner's exhilarating address was one of the most paradigmatic cases of placing the cart before the horse.

Yes, it's terrific to talk about what could happen if there was peace. But the ideas Kushner presented have been raised in a variety of formats and configurations over the course of the past 50 years. Twenty years ago, the concept of "a new Middle East" was the dream promoted by the late Israeli President Shimon Peres, in attempts to induce Israelis to agree to concessions for the sake of peace. In short, Peres promised that Israel would thrive in a Middle East at peace. He was no doubt correct. Be that as it may, be, Israel managed to thrive without achieving peace.

Kushner is trying to sell a new version of the Peres plan to persuade Palestinians to make unspecified concessions to reach a brighter future. (Never mind the fact that with Israel's severe labor shortage in both white and blue collar sectors, there is no doubt the Palestinian economy could easily thrive, if peace were to break out—even without the new Trump plan.) And chances of this plan ever succeeding were not helped by the ridiculous op-ed article by Israel's UN Ambassador Danny Danon in The New York Times, titled: "What is wrong with Palestinian surrender — Knowing when to give up is often the first step to making peace". In the article, Danon compared the Kushner plan to the Marshall Plan. This analogy might have been ok, but, in the title, Danon states the Palestinians should admit "defeat," in order to receive aid, as Germany was given after the war. This assertion is a stunning example of how little Danon understands about the role of dignity in national politics - and, of course, comparing the beleaguered and highly cooperative Palestinian Authority to Nazi Germany should be beyond the pale.

Once Kushner ended his address, after the other guest and I completed our remarks, I turned to the anchor, Ayman Sikseck (an Arab-Israeli author from Jaffa), as we walked out of the studio, and we both agreed how profoundly sad we were that after all these many years nothing has changed, nothing has progressed.

By Wednesday night, as the heat of the day receded, a new little insanity spread through Israeli political circles.Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's party had suddenly decided — in contravention of the accepted rules — that the new election, which they had forced by dissolving the Knesset before the President could assign the job to someone other than Netanyahu should now be canceled. Within hours, all of the Likud ministers and the potential coalition partners who had voted to dissolve the Knesset a mere month ago, were singing the same song. All of a sudden, Likud ministers declared that a new election is "too expensive," "would not change anything," and moreover, "the people do not want a new election".

There was some attempt to claim the Likud was in negotiations with Gantz's Blue and White Party to form a broad Unity coalition. That line was dropped when the B&W party leadership categorically denied any sort of negotiations had taken place. Despite the fact that every legal opinion presented all agree there was no legitimate way to turn back the clock, talk of canceling the new election has not stopped. Prime Minister Netanyahu tweeted he would meet with the speaker of the Knesset (himself #2 in the Likud party list) to discuss the cancellation proposal.

Perhaps it is the heat speaking, but the only path to call off the upcoming election would be to change one of Israel's Basic Laws (i.e., Israel's quasi-constitution). While it is true that, only 61 votes are required to change a Basic Law, legal experts all agree that since the Knesset voted to dissolve itself, it no longer has the authority to alter any Basic Laws.

Israelis, like most people, would love to forget about politics and current events, and just enjoy their summer. However with ever larger numbers of daily incendiary balloon attacks from Gaza, and with Iranian threats to violate its commitment on enrichment of uranium, not to mention, another election coming in September, this is unlikely to be a quiet summer.

On Wednesday night, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak declared he was forming a new party. His overall rationale was that current opponents of Netanyahu have not shown they have "the fire in their bellies" to really take him on. At his press conference, Barak, who called Netanyahu his former soldier (he was Netanyahu's commanding officer in the elite commando unit "Sayeret Matkal") made it clear that in his mind, Netanyahu's time has come to an end. The first polls to be released after Barak made his announcement showed that if elections were held today, the Center-Left would have a majority and Netanyahu would not be able to form a government. It is going to be a long, hot summer.

Marc Schulman is a multimedia historian.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​