President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and chief Middle East adviser, Jared Kushner, arrived in the region on Wednesday for a daylong visit aimed at restarting long-dormant Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
Kushner was to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Trump has tasked Kushner with the ambitious goal of laying the groundwork for what he calls the “ultimate deal.” Deep divisions remain, however, clouding the chances of a significant breakthrough.
This month marked the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Mideast war - a seminal event in which Israel captured the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. The Palestinians claim these territories for their future independent state.
After two decades of failed US-led peace efforts, Palestinian statehood seems distant. Envoy Jason Greenblatt has already made several visits.
Even before his meetings, Kushner faced a new crisis.
On the eve of his arrival, Israel broke ground on a new West Bank settlement for residents of an illegally built outpost that was dismantled in February under orders from the Supreme Court.
Netanyahu had vowed to compensate the residents of Amona with a new settlement, built on a nearby site in the northern West Bank.
“The people of Amona really appreciate his efforts and the efforts from his office in fulfilling this commitment that started to come alive to create this new community,” said Avichai Boaron, a spokesman for the settlers.
The move has infuriated the Palestinians, who say all settlements are illegal obstacles to peace. Trump has asked Israel to show “restraint” in its settlement construction.
“This is the way Netanyahu is meeting Trump’s envoys,” said Mustafa Barghouti, a Palestinian official. “The real question here is will the administration of Trump tell Israel that it is enough and they have to stop immediately all settlement activities, or they will accept this Israeli provocation?”
Kushner did not speak to reporters ahead of his talks Wednesday, and Israeli security agents blocked AP cameramen from filming the arrival of his convoy. In one case, a cameraman was ordered to leave a sidewalk outside the government compound that houses Netanyahu’s office, and in other case, a cameraman was ordered to delete his memory card of all images of the prime minister’s office.
Once on the ground, Kushner immediately paid a condolence visit to the family of a young female Israeli police officer who was killed by Palestinian attackers over the weekend near Jerusalem’s Old City. Kushner said Trump asked him to personally convey the condolences of the American people.
Three Palestinian attackers armed with an automatic weapon and knives assaulted officers on duty near the Old City in two locations on Friday evening.
Police said Staff Sgt. Maj. Hadas Malka, 23, was rushing to respond to the initial attack nearby when a Palestinian assaulted her with a knife. Malka wrestled with the man for several seconds as he stabbed her multiple times before other officers saw what was happening and opened fire, killing him, police said. She later died of her wounds in hospital.
Thousands attended her funeral Saturday night. Netanyahu visited her grieving family on Sunday and called Malka “everybody’s daughter and everybody’s hero.” He also criticized Abbas for not condemning the attack.
It was the latest incident in a wave of Palestinian attacks that began in September 2015. Since then, Palestinian assailants have killed 43 Israelis, two visiting Americans and a British student, mainly in stabbing attacks. Some 250 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire during the same period, most of them identified as attackers by Israel.