Special counsel Robert Mueller is reportedly probing Jared Kushner’s contacts with Israeli officials last year as Israel tried to derail a UN Security Council vote on its West Bank settlements.
Kushner is Donald Trump’s son-in-law, a senior adviser and fixer. Former FBI director Mueller was appointed by the Department of Justice in May to lead a broad investigation sparked by allegations of ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.
The Wall Street Journal’s revelation of the probe into Kushner’s contacts with Israel comes as details emerge of an imminent Trump “peace plan” that would railroad Palestinians into surrendering their rights in exchange for a state in name only.
According to the newspaper, Mueller’s “investigators have asked witnesses questions” about the involvement of Kushner “in a controversy over a UN resolution” passed before Trump took office that condemned Israel’s settlements, all of which are illegal under international law.
Trump had posted his opposition to the resolution on social media and called the Egyptian dictator Abdulfattah al-Sisi, whose diplomats were sponsoring the resolution, to press him to pull it.
Despite these efforts, the resolution passed on 23 December, after several other Security Council members stepped in to sponsor it, and the Obama administration – in a rare US move – declined to cast a veto.
According to the Journal, Israel had reached out to senior Trump associates, including Kushner and Steve Bannon, in an effort to thwart the vote.
“The motivation for the Mueller team’s questions about the UN is unclear,” the Journal states, but they are part of an examination of Kushner’s “interactions with foreign leaders during the presidential transition.”
The newspaper points to the 1799 Logan Act that “bars Americans from communicating with a foreign government to influence the government’s actions related to a dispute with the US,” but notes that no one has ever been successfully prosecuted under it.
Kushner is no impartial observer. His family’s foundation has donated money to support Israeli settlements.
What will be interesting to watch is whether Kushner’s role in Trump’s efforts to derail international condemnation of Israel’s settlements will attract the same obsessive attention from liberal politicians and pundits who have jumped on every “Russiagate” allegation of “collusion” no matter how dubious or fictional.
On Wednesday, Middle East Eye published what it said were exclusive details of Trump’s “ultimate deal” peace plan reportedly to be unveiled early next year.
Citing a “Western diplomat” close to the US team preparing the proposal, Middle East Eye describes a rehash of Israeli-inspired plans to give Palestinians what amounts to limited self-rule on a few scattered plots of land – akin to the bantustans apartheid South Africa tried to establish to deflect calls for full rights for Black South Africans.
The US plan would call for a “Palestinian state” in the Gaza Strip and a few enclaves in the West Bank but key issues including the status of Jerusalem and the right of return for Palestinian refugees would be postponed.
So-called “final negotiations” would then be led by Saudi Arabia.
Kushner reportedly visited Saudi Arabia to brief Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman – commonly known as MBS – and to ask for Saudi help to pressure Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas to accept the plan.
Earlier this month MBS summoned Abbas to Riyadh. According to Israeli media reports, the Saudi autocrat told the PA leader to accept the upcoming Trump peace plan or resign.
Unnamed Palestinian officials told Middle East Eye that MBS offered to nearly triple Saudi Arabia’s monthly payments to the PA to $20 million if Abbas accepts it.
Obsession with Iran
The report confirms the motive of the Saudi interest in promoting the plan – and it has nothing to do with securing Palestinian rights.
“MBS is very enthusiastic about the plan,” the Western diplomat told Middle East Eye, “and he is eager to see a peace deal between the Palestinians and Israel first, then between Israel and the Arab countries, as a first step in forming a coalition between Saudi Arabia and Israel to counter the Iranian threat.”
“This is Netanyahu’s plan and he sold it the US team and they are trying to sell it to the Palestinians and Arabs,” according to a Palestinian official quoted by Middle East Eye.
Saudi Arabia has long been flirting with Israel in a low-key manner, but the two states are now increasingly open about their alliance.
In an unprecedented interview with Saudi media last week, Israeli military chief Gadi Eizenkot expressed his country’s willingness to share intelligence with Saudi Arabia – something that has undoubtedly already been going on.
Eizenkot also described Saudi Arabia and its allies as “moderate.”
The Saudi regime is returning the favor.
Muhammad bin Abdul Karim Issa, the former Saudi justice minister and a close ally of MBS, reportedly told Israeli media that violence against Israel – presumably including Palestinian resistance to military occupation – is “un-Islamic.”
In June, the Saudi foreign minister demanded that Qatar stop supporting the Palestinian resistance group Hamas.
Saudi schemes backfiring
While embracing Israel appears to be a key strategy in pursuit of Saudi Arabia’s obsession with confronting Iran, the kingdom’s regional schemes have had a tendency to go disastrously awry, as The Electronic Intifada’s Omar Karmi noted in a recent analysis: these include the years-long proxy war in Syria that resulted in massive destruction and fatalities but failed to remove its president, Bashar al-Assad; the Saudi-led war on Yemen that has succeeded only in killing and injuring tens of thousands of civilians and bringing millions to the brink of famine; and the effort to isolate Qatar, which has not brought Riyadh’s Gulf neighbor to heel.
The latest Saudi power play to weaken the Lebanese resistance and political movement Hizballah by forcing Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri to resign also appears to have backfired.
After a bizarre episode in which he appeared to be held captive by the Saudis, before traveling to Paris and Cairo, Hariri finally returned to Beirut on Wednesday.
There he promptly rescinded his resignation after meeting with Lebanese President Michel Aoun.
The US threats this week to close the Palestinian Authority’s “embassy” in Washington appear to be part of efforts to pressure Palestinians into accepting Trump’s plan.
But the bullying and bribes by the US-Saudi-Israeli axis aren’t going to be any more successful on the Palestinian front either.
Even the pliant PA leadership will have no choice but to reject a plan that seeks only to liquidate the Palestinian cause in order to remove all obstacles to Israel’s full integration into the region.