Jared Kushner returns to spotlight in Israel

Hunter Walker
White House Correspondent

WASHINGTON — Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, made a rare public appearance on Monday when he spoke at the controversial opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.

According to a White House source, Kushner was a driving force behind moving the embassy from Tel Aviv, following the administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. And his high-profile role at the ceremony seemed to send a clear signal that Kushner remains the face of Mideast policy in spite of a recent downgrade to his status at the White House.

When Trump took office, he gave Kushner a broad portfolio that included diplomacy with Mexico and China, the response to the opioid crisis, criminal justice reform and the Middle East peace process. Toward the end of last year, Kushner saw his domain shrink following the arrival of chief of staff John Kelly. Kushner’s role was further cast into doubt when he lost his top-secret security clearance in February amid a broader review of the granting of temporary clearances at the White House. And earlier this month, the president’s attorney Rudy Giuliani raised eyebrows when he described Kushner as “disposable” while addressing the possibility that members of Trump’s family could become targets of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe.

With his speech in Jerusalem, Kushner showed he is still the face of America’s Middle East policy. And a White House source confirmed to Yahoo News that Trump specifically requested that Kushner give the address.

“He’s been working on this speech for four weeks,” the source said of Kushner. “The president personally asked Jared to deliver this message.”

U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman listens as senior White House adviser Jared Kushner delivers a speech during the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem on May 14, 2018. (Photo: Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)

Kushner’s wife, Ivanka Trump, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and several prominent Republican senators also attended the ceremony.

In his remarks, Kushner spoke on behalf of the administration and framed the decision to relocate the embassy as the fulfillment of a promise made by Trump , an effort to give Israel the “right to define its own capital,” and a step to “strengthen the bond” between the U.S. and Israel.

“Our special bond is the envy of nations throughout the world. This bond is forged through shared history, sustained through shared interests, and immortalized through shared principles,” Kushner said.

“The United States stands with Israel because we both believe in freedom. We stand together because we both believe in human rights. We stand together because we believe democracy is worth defending, and the United States stands with Israel because we believe — we know — that it is the right thing to do,” he added.

The relocation of the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem brought with it a great deal of controversy and even violence. Both Israel and the leaders of the Palestinian territories consider Jerusalem their capital. This conflict has stopped previous presidents from giving Jerusalem official recognition, even after promising to do so. The Trump administration’s decision to move the embassy and formally recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital sparked Palestinian protests in the Gaza Strip, along the border with Israel, over the last six weeks. Israeli troops responded with fire that killed scores of protesters.

Kushner briefly acknowledged this violence in his remarks and expressed optimism that the U.S. can ultimately help both sides reach agreement.

Palestinian demonstrators run for cover from Israeli fire and tear gas at the Israel-Gaza border during a protest against the U.S. Embassy’s relocation to Jerusalem on May 14, 2018. (Photo: Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters)

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“As we have seen from the protests of the last month and even today, those provoking violence are part of the problem and not part of the solution,” said Kushner. “The United States is prepared to support a peace agreement in every way that we can. We believe that it is possible for both sides to gain more than they give so that all people can live in peace.”

Kushner is an observant Jew whose family has long been active in pro-Israel causes. During his speech, he pointed out that he’s the “grandson of Holocaust survivors.”

Palestinians aren’t the only ones who have been critical of the embassy move. Relocating the embassy without extracting concessions from Israel is seen by some as relinquishing valuable leverage, and it has led some observers to question Kushner’s overall strategy in the peace process.

Kushner and the White House have been keeping their larger strategy for the process close to the vest. The source who discussed Kushner’s speech declined to discuss the thinking behind the embassy move, but described the decision as part of Kushner’s belief that it was simply the “right thing to do” and “if you do the right thing, all sides will win.” The source also pointed to Kushner’s optimism and apparent confidence an agreement can be reached.

“There are concerns, I’m sure, that this is viewed as a one-sided win for Israel, but it’s not,” the source said. “Jared really believes that when people behave honorably, both sides win.”

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