June 20, 2017 01:13 GMT by nytimes.com

Jared Kushner Is About to Plunge Into Middle East Diplomacy

Jared Kushner Is About to Plunge Into Middle East Diplomacy

After meeting with technology executives, Mr. Kushner will travel to Israel for meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas.

WASHINGTON — Jared Kushner, the presidential adviser who oversees a bulging policy portfolio but operates mainly behind the scenes in his father-in-law’s White House, is stepping out this week, meeting with technology executives on Monday and making a foray into Middle East diplomacy days later.

Mr. Kushner will travel to Israel on Wednesday and join Jason D. Greenblatt, President Trump’s chief negotiator in the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians, for meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. He is also scheduled to go to the West Bank for a meeting with Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority.

White House officials played down the likelihood of a breakthrough during Mr. Kushner’s trip. But his participation is a potent reminder of the importance Mr. Trump has attached to achieving an elusive peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

It also demonstrates Mr. Kushner’s determination not to let investigations into the Trump campaign’s alleged ties with Russia, or his own business dealings, distract him from his day-to-day work. A senior administration official said Mr. Kushner’s trip to the Mideast had been planned for several weeks as a way to build on the president’s visit to Jerusalem last month.

Several officials said this could be the first trip in which Mr. Kushner and Mr. Greenblatt delved into the nitty-gritty of a possible peace agreement — borders, security and other questions that have bedeviled American peacemakers for decades — by asking both sides to list their priorities for negotiations.

“Part of it is to figure out how to make incremental change that results in a lasting peace,” Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, said on Monday. “Part of this is really to utilize the trust that has been built up, and not have these negotiations out in public. But I think that they had a very successful visit when the president was over there, and they’re going to continue to build on that.”

There have been growing expectations, fueled in part by Mr. Trump’s optimistic pronouncements, that the White House will invite the two sides to Washington in the coming months to negotiate directly. But two officials said that was not the goal of this trip.

Mr. Greenblatt has already made a handful of visits to Israel and the West Bank and obtained an unwritten agreement from the Israeli government to slow down construction of Jewish settlements, which have been an impediment to previous American efforts to broker a deal.

A real estate lawyer who worked for the Trump Organization and had no diplomatic experience, Mr. Greenblatt has nonetheless won praise from both sides for being open-minded. But the test will come now, as he begins to press the Israelis on issues like the contours of a Palestinian state and demands that the Palestinians halt language that incites violence against Jews.

Mr. Kushner’s participation, officials said, will raise the stakes for both Israeli and Palestinian leaders. At the beginning of the Obama administration, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton left much of the groundwork to Mr. Obama’s Middle East envoy, George J. Mitchell, only becoming directly involved in negotiations months later.

In effect, the Trump administration is bringing its marquee emissary, Mr. Kushner, into the room early in the process. The president himself traveled to Israel within the first four months of his term, and he has left little doubt that he is willing to spend considerable political capital to achieve a deal.

Mr. Kushner played a central role in planning Mr. Trump’s stops last month in Israel, Saudi Arabia and Rome, energetically promoting the narrative of the president’s making a pilgrimage to the seats of the world’s three great monotheistic religions.

But he flew back to Washington amid reports that he was under investigation by the F.B.I. over his ties to Russia, and some colleagues predicted he would be distracted by his legal troubles.

Monday seemed calculated to put those doubts to rest. Appearing at a meeting of technology executives to discuss innovation, another issue that falls under his purview, Mr. Kushner did something he almost never does: He spoke publicly before television cameras.

“Today, we’ve assembled a very impressive group of leaders from the private sector and are putting them to work here today to work on some of the country’s biggest challenges that will make a very meaningful difference to a lot of its citizens,” Mr. Kushner said, reading a statement, his voice reedy and echoing through the room.

The goal is “to improve the day-to-day lives of the average citizen,” he said. “That is a core promise, and we are keeping it.”

Mr. Kushner has courted the tech industry since before Mr. Trump’s inauguration. But many of its chief executives remain deeply skeptical of the president’s policies, particularly on immigration. Mr. Kushner is also overseeing an ambitious effort to overhaul the federal government, and insisted on Monday that he had found the bureaucracy to be more pliant than others had.

“Together, we have set ambitious goals and empowered interagency teams to tackle our objectives,” he said. “It’s working, and it’s very exciting.”

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