World

Mission impossible? Kushner seeks to revive Mideast talks

President Donald Trump's son-in-law and chief Middle East adviser, Jared Kushner, is headed to the region with ambitious hopes of laying the groundwork for a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians.

Trump has a number of advantages that could help him succeed where a string of predecessors have failed. But the deep divisions between the sides remain, clouding the chances of any significant breakthrough.

Here is a look at what lies ahead:

FESTERING CONFLICT

This month marked the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Mideast war — a seminal event in which Israel captured the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip. The Palestinians claim these areas for a future independent state.

After two decades of failed U.S.-led peace efforts, Palestinian statehood seems distant. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opposes a return to anything close to Israel's pre-1967 lines, and Israel has settled over 600,000 of its citizens in the West Bank and east Jerusalem to complicate any partition of the land. Netanyahu's government is also dominated by religious and nationalist hardliners who oppose Palestinian statehood and will fight any major concessions.

Few Israelis can contemplate dividing Jerusalem, and almost none would entertain Palestinian demands for allowing refugees and their descendants, who now number in the millions, the right to live in Israel.

The Palestinians, meanwhile, have rejected Netanyahu's demands to recognize Israel's Jewish identity. They will also hear Israeli complaints about alleged anti-Israeli incitement in speeches, textbooks and social media, and demands that they halt welfare payments to the families of Palestinians involved in violence against Israelis.

Lurking in the background is the Islamic militant group Hamas' continued control of the Gaza Strip. Israel and Hamas are bitter enemies, and Abbas' failure to regain control of Gaza, a decade after Hamas overran his forces there, would be another complicating factor in enforcing any deal.

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WHY BOTHER?

For decades, Republican and Democratic presidents have repeatedly failed at reaching what Trump calls "the ultimate deal." And prospects look dim for Kushner and his envoy, Jason Greenblatt.

But the Trump administration enjoys some advantages that could help. In his few months in office, Trump has forged a good working relationship with both the Israelis and Palestinians, highlighted by a successful visit to the region last month. Trump also received a warm welcome in Saudi Arabia, a potentially key player for Trump's goal of pursuing a region-wide deal.

Kushner, the son of a wealthy Jewish real-estate developer, also has a personal connection with Netanyahu. At a White House meeting in February, Netanyahu warmly noted he had known Kushner since he was a child.

There is also the fear factor. The president's volatile and unpredictable personality could make it harder for either side to reject proposed concessions or goodwill gestures.

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MAN OF MYSTERY

Trump has yet to lay out a clear vision for a peace agreement. He has not even been clear about whether he supports a two-state solution — the cornerstone of international diplomatic efforts for the past two decades.

But he has given hints of what he has in mind. He has publicly asked Netanyahu to show restraint in settlement construction, and he has pressured the Palestinians on the issues of incitement and welfare payments to militants' families.

Although no major breakthroughs are expected on this visit, a clearer picture of Trump's strategy could soon emerge.

Palestinian officials say the U.S. is preparing for a 12- to 18-month negotiating period. They say the U.S. is promising to be actively involved and may even present a declaration of principles as a guide for talks.

But the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were discussing a confidential diplomatic matter, stressed the situation is fluid.

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DOOMED TO FAIL?

Even if Kushner succeeds in restarting peace talks, he will soon run into the same problems that have doomed his predecessors: Each side's maximum offers fall short of the other's minimum demands.

Success would require creativity and likely a system of incentives and disincentives to push the sides toward compromise.

One approach that Palestinian officials say has come up in preliminary talks is an interim deal for an independent Palestinian state in temporary borders. Stickier issues, like the fate of Jerusalem and its holy sites, claims of Palestinian refugees and final borders, would be tackled later on.

The Palestinians reject such an approach, fearing that a temporary deal that falls short of their dreams will ultimately become permanent.

It is also not clear whether such a scaled-back deal would succeed in bringing Saudi Arabia and Gulf countries to normalize relations with Israel, as is the hope.

Also, looming over everything is the probe into Trump administration officials' ties to Russia. While not posing an immediate threat, it could turn into a major distraction for the president and his son in law.