US President Donald Trump is still weighing whether to proceed with relocating America’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and recognizing the ancient city as its capital, his son-in-law and senior adviser said on Sunday.
Speaking at the Saban Forum at the Brookings Institution, Jared Kushner – who is leading the president’s effort to jump-start peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians – dismissed media reports claiming inside sourcing on the president’s thinking. “He’s still looking at a lot of different facts,” Kushner told the group.
It was his first public speaking engagement on an issue that has dominated his time at the White House since Trump took office 10 months ago – an awkward conversation at times with Haim Saban, one of the largest donors to his Democratic opponent in the 2016 presidential race who has now become a casual adviser, according to them.
Kushner said his Mideast peace team – comprised of himself, special representative for international negotiations Jason Greenblatt and Deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell – were focused on finding a solution from the region itself and not from without. In months of listening to the parties toward that end, they have found that Israel is better positioned than it has ever been to enter a formal peace with the wider Arab world given its strong economy and army, its innovation and an alignment of interests against Iran.
“We don’t view a peace agreement as just signing a piece of paper and hoping it works out. We’re focused on what happens after,” Kushner said, declining to outline any details of the prospective plan.
Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies, in particular, are keen on reaching a comprehensive peace with Israel, he noted. But their care for the Palestinian cause is real and will not be put aside in the name of cooperation against Tehran’s regional designs.
“The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is something they care a lot about,” Kushner said. “They recognize that finding a solution to this problem is the only way that can be achieved.”
And during his listening tour, he said, he found there is actually “great trust” between Israelis and Palestinians – with the exception of its leadership. There, he found a series of red lines that have governed a detailed peace plan Kushner and his team plan on rolling out to the public in the coming months.
According to Palestinian Authority officials, one of those red lines is their absolute need to establish their capital in east Jerusalem.
Recognizing the city as Israel’s capital and moving the US Embassy there would amount to a direct challenge to that red line and compromise Kushner’s peace initiative before it begins, they warned last week, amid reports that Trump plans to proceed.
Trump is expected to announce his decision on the matter on Thursday or Friday.
Kushner said several times that he tries to insulate himself from media reports, many of which claim to have detailed knowledge of his effort, which he claims are inaccurate or misleading.
He said his project is moving apace, deliberately and quietly, cognizant of the challenges but hopeful nonetheless.
“We’ve been very focused on ‘the deal,’” Kushner said. “You see a lot of reasons why this could go south very quickly.”
He added: “The president has a very long career of accomplishing things that a lot of people say is impossible – the most recent of that is the election.”