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Kushner Travels To Israel To Push Peace Talks


Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and senior adviser, arrives in Jerusalem this evening. He'll be there with other White House officials to try and revive an Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Tomorrow's schedule includes separate talks with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Someone who knows how challenging it is to craft a peace deal in this region is Former Senator George Mitchell. He was President Obama's special envoy for Middle East peace, and he joins us now. Good morning.

GEORGE MITCHELL: Good morning.

CHANG: So do you think that Jared Kushner can get the buy-in he needs from Israeli and Palestinian leaders to make significant progress on this issue?

MITCHEEL: It will be very difficult. But I commend the administration for making the effort. Effort is impossible - it is possible and necessary in the region because history tells us that where there's no visible effort to try to bring about peace, the likelihood of violence rises.

So - it's going to be tough. There are many obstacles and difficulties, particularly the volatility of the entire region in which the Israeli-Palestinian conflict exists. You can't regard that conflict in a silo. It's not separate from it. It's part of the entire region.

CHANG: The Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, has said that he's frustrated because Trump envoys keep telling him privately that they are committed to a two-state solution and that they want to stop construction in the settlements. But then Abbas has also said that those White House officials won't say the same thing to Israel. What do you think? Is the U.S. too close to Netanyahu to really pressure him?

MITCHEEL: Well, that's been a long-standing issue. But I do think that there won't be progress made if we're not saying the same thing to both sides. I think that you have to, in these circumstances, never engage in the process of saying one thing to one side and something else to the other side. So that is, I think, a prerequisite to moving forward on the process. I don't comment on President Abbas' statements about Kushner because I haven't been involved in these direct negotiations.

CHANG: Right.

MITCHEEL: I'm speaking in a general way.

CHANG: OK. You write in a recent book of yours called "A Path To Peace" that settlements were a real major obstacle in the peace process. President Obama tried to convince Israelis to stop building in disputed areas on the West Bank but didn't have a lot of success ultimately. Can Trump's administration do better, you think?

MITCHEEL: Over the last half century, every American administration, Democratic and Republican, has opposed the policies of the government of Israel regarding settlement construction. And every government of Israel, both Likud and Labor, have authorized or condoned settlement construction. It's one of those issues on which the two countries fundamentally disagree.

President Obama's plan was an exact replica - the same words, the same policies - of that proposed by President George W. Bush in his road map to peace just a few years earlier. And all American presidents have made comments on that. So it is one of the difficulties of the relationship. The United States and Israel are close allies. But both are vibrant democracies, and there is no guarantee that we will agree on everything. And that's one thing we disagree on.

CHANG: So Netanyahu and Abbas - they do have something in common at this moment. Each is fighting off challenges from within. Netanyahu faces allegations of fraud and bribery. Abbas has powerful political opponents. Are these the right leaders to strike a deal that would last?

MITCHEEL: Well, they are the leaders chosen by their people, so they're the ones we have to deal with. They have something else in common. They don't like and trust each other...

CHANG: (Laughter).

MITCHEEL: ...Just like the views of many of their people. And that's one of the real difficulties in the region. Support for the two-state solution is declining on both sides, which is unfortunate because I think it's the only realistic option for peace in the region.

CHANG: That's former Senator and Special Envoy for Middle East Peace George Mitchell. Thank you very much for joining us.

MITCHEEL: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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