2020 saved its weirdest twist for August: Jared Kushner’s going to win a Nobel prize.
They’ll never give it to Trump, not even if he negotiates world peace. But Jared, the White House’s foremost Democrat, might be acceptable to the committee.
His most intriguing comments this morning after normalized relations between Israel and the UAE were announced haven’t been noticed much elsewhere, to my surprise:
“There is a good chance that another country could make a deal with Israel in the coming days,” Kushner said at the White House.
Speaking to reporters after he unveiled the historic agreement, Trump suggested more diplomatic breakthroughs between Israel and its Muslim neighbors in the region were expected.
“Things are happening that I can’t talk talk about,” he said.
The Israel/UAE deal is the biggest foreign policy achievement of Trump’s presidency. Could there be a bigger one within the week?
It’s well known that Kushner is buddies with Saudi Arabia’s murderous “reformer,” Mohammed bin Salman. Normalized relations between Israel and the Kingdom would be the foreign policy coup of the decade, a tectonic shift in the Middle East — and yet a predictable one in a way, in that both Israel and the KSA long ago concluded that they each have more to fear from Iran than from each other.
I agree with Ed, though, that a deal between them is all but unimaginable. The Kingdom may be a U.S. client state but it’s not a backbencher like the UAE is. It’s the seat of Islam and the global hub of Wahhabism. Were they to normalize relations with Israel, it would feel as if all of Sunni Islam were doing so, which would set off every jihadist nut on the planet. If the Saudis ever make nice with Tel Aviv, it’ll be because many other dominoes in the region have already fallen and made it safe(r) to do so.
The smart money on whom Kushner has in mind is Qatar, where the U.S. has military bases and which has played diplomatic roles for the White House before, such as by hosting U.S./Taliban talks. But an interesting alternative possibility is Bahrain, the headquarters for the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet and a country with an unusual sectarian arrangement. A majority of the population is Shiite but the king is Sunni, and a Sunni king who’s worried about Iran stirring unrest among his Shiite natives might have extra incentive to join a U.S-Israel-Sunni anti-Iran coalition. Either way, I think Trump and Kushner want a second country to follow the UAE in order to create some momentum towards peace, in the belief that the more Sunni nations normalize relations with Israel, the easier it is for holdouts to break their own embargoes and normalize as well. There’s hope for a “domino effect” here.
Reaction in ObamaWorld to the news was split. Ben Rhodes was, well, Ben Rhodes-ish…
This agreement enshrines what has been the emerging status quo in the region for a long time (including the total exclusion of Palestinians). Dressed up as an election eve achievement from two leaders who want Trump to win. https://t.co/0VzTDefv1B
— Ben Rhodes (@brhodes) August 13, 2020
…but Joe Biden had to be more careful, not wanting to praise Trump for an achievement but also not wanting to scare off pro-Israel voters by criticizing the deal. In the end he settled on applause — for Israel and the UAE, not the White House. He also took some credit for the breakthrough:
Obama and Biden do deserve “credit,” just not in the way Biden claims. I think their years-long effort to court Iran spooked the Sunni states so badly that the looming prospect of a Biden presidency has the leaders of those states considering bold gambits right now like the one we saw this morning. If you’re expecting your patrons in Washington to shift from trying to isolate Iran to trying to build relations with Iran come January, you might want to seize the opportunity immediately to build an anti-Iran alliance with other regional powers. And of course, by doing this on Trump’s watch, you hand him a major diplomatic victory which he can tout to voters, and maybe even parlay into being reelected. Rhodes is wrong about a lot of stuff he’s not wrong about Israel and the UAE favoring Trump over Biden.
In fact, that may be the strongest argument for believing that an Israel/Saudi deal might be in the works. Bin Salman surely understands that he’s better off with Trump than with any Democratic administration. Not only is a Trump-led U.S. a staunch ally against Iran, Trump won’t even complain when the Saudis decide to murder journalists while they’re visiting the local consulate.
I think Noam Blum’s right too about Israel’s extra incentive to do the deal:
Here's my hot UAE/annexation take: Bibi always intended to use annexation solely as either a bluff against Abbas, red meat to the voter base, or both. He didn't expect the Trump admin to ever go along with it, and so he needed a way out. 1/3
— Noam Blum (@neontaster) August 13, 2020
Israel can sell it as being "on hold for now," but especially if Biden gets elected, annexation ain't happening in the foreseeable future.
tl;dr the Palestinians didn't get screwed because I think annexation wouldn't have gone down anyway and also now Bibi loses that card. 3/3
— Noam Blum (@neontaster) August 13, 2020
If annexation of the disputed territories were something Netanyahu were serious about, not just tough talk aimed at charming Israel’s hawks, he never would have agreed to this deal. To the contrary, the likelihood of Biden winning would have impelled him to begin annexation now, before the new administration is sworn in and puts the brakes on. Netanyahu was looking for an excuse to “postpone” the plan (which will be dropped entirely if Biden wins, as Sleepy Joe suggests in his statement above) and the UAE deal was a perfect reason.
I’ll leave you with another Kusher comment from today’s press briefing, paying lip service to his recent meeting with Kanye West. Be careful, Jared: Coordination between campaigns is a type of campaign contribution, and unreported or excessive campaign contributions are illegal.
#BREAKING: Jared Kushner comments on meeting with Kanye West: "He has a lot of great ideas for what he'd like to see happen in the country, and that's why he has the candidacy that he's been doing." pic.twitter.com/zjez00iV54
— The Hill (@thehill) August 13, 2020