Jared Kushner’s Middle East Development Project

His conference in Bahrain hears of big dream plans divorced from reality.

The slick promotional publication, titled “Peace to Prosperity,” described a $50 billion investment surge in the Palestinian economy over the next decade, like a fantastical New York real estate promotion. Palestinians certainly could use the investment and jobs in their economically depressed communities, where unemployment last year was 31 percent.

The publication touted what was supposed to be an economic foundation for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, presented at a conference in Bahrain this week by Jared Kushner, presidential son-in-law, senior adviser and, formerly, New York real estate developer.

Mr. Kushner invited participants to “imagine a new reality in the Middle East.”

But except for its patronizing tone, there’s little new about the plan, which relies heavily on the construction of much-needed infrastructure projects that are retreads of proposals the World Bank, the United States and others made in previous failed peace efforts.

The most ambitious undertaking would be a $5 billion transportation corridor from the West Bank to Gaza that could link the two Palestinian territories with a major road and possibly a modern rail line. To facilitate the flow of Palestinian people and goods with Israel, Egypt, Jordan and other countries in the region, facilities at key border crossings would be upgraded, new cargo terminals would be built, old ones would be refurbished and new security technology would be installed.

Although it deals only in generalities, the plan also envisions investing in upgrades to Palestinian electric grids, the Gaza Power Plant and renewable energy facilities. In an effort to double the water supply in five years, new desalinization and wastewater treatment facilities, wells and distribution networks would be built. Financial incentives would encourage private Palestinian businesses to expand the limited existing digital capabilities by developing high-speed telecommunications services.

Other proposals focus on expanding educational opportunities, jobs, housing, tourism and the rule of law.

While tantalizing, the plan as it stands is, to be gentle, unrealistic.

Israel controls the economic life of the Palestinian territories, meaning none of the proposals are possible without its concurrence. Yet the plan makes no demands on Israel and its prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Gulf states, along with European nations and private investors, are expected to help finance the plan, but there have been no actual commitments, and the idea that the Arabs would bankroll a peace plan that sidesteps a Palestinian state is unlikely.

Making the whole initiative even more surreal, it arrives after the administration in which Mr. Kushner serves sharply cut funds for programs that support Palestinian schools and health care.

The fact that officials of the Israeli and the Palestinian governments, whose futures are most at stake, were absent from the two-day conference in Bahrain, and that many Arab and European countries sent only lower-level representatives, underscores the broad international discomfort with Mr. Kushner’s economic proposals and the promised plan for resolving Israel-Palestinian political issues that is supposed to follow it.

Team Trump is betting that dangling lucrative investments will cause Palestinians to abandon their aspirations for an independent state, a goal the United States supported as part of a negotiated peace since 2002, until President Trump voiced a more fluid view. If it were that easy it would have happened years ago.

Palestinian leaders, who halted contact with Washington months ago, rejected Mr. Kushner’s economic blueprint out of hand. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, allies with Israel against Iran, were supportive but made clear that the plan needed to be combined with a political solution.

The one truly enthusiastic cadre appeared to be billionaire investors who, seemingly for the first time, were seeing economic potential in a long-ignored part of the world. Many of them expressed such eagerness about eventually underwriting projects promoted by the plan that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said, “It’s going to be like a hot I.P.O.”

Mr. Kushner is right when he says the “old way hasn’t really worked.” However, by presenting a plan that ignores Palestinians’ aspirations for statehood and their demands for ending Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, he is making success even less likely. “If we are going to fail,” he has said, “we don’t want to fail doing it the same way it’s been done in the past.”

What happens next is anybody’s guess. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo admitted in a recent closed-door meeting with Jewish leaders that the plan may be “unexecutable.” But if Mr. Kushner can mobilize powerful investors and international businesses as cheerleaders for Mideast peace, he could make a real contribution.

A Vengeful and Shortsighted Act

It is hard to imagine how this would coax the Palestinians to offer more concessions in a negotiation with Israel. What they see is that the United States under Mr. Trump has embraced the views of Israeli right-wing nationalists and tried to take two of their most important negotiating issues — the status of Jerusalem, which Mr. Trump undermined by announcing late last year that the United States embassy would be moved to Jerusalem, and now the right of return — off the table.

Through all the decades of peace negotiations, the Palestinians had believed that the United States, dedicated to Israel’s security, was the only power that could fairly mediate with Israel on their behalf. Mr. Trump has abdicated this leadership role, risking a humanitarian disaster and renewed violence.

You can tell who Trump is through the company he keeps

what the trial reveals is something very damning, in the ethical if not legal sense: namely, what kind of people Trump surrounds himself with.

There was no secret about Manafort’s record as an influence-peddler on behalf of corrupt dictators and oligarchs when he went to work for Trump. On April 13, 2016, Bloomberg columnist Eli Lake wrote a prescient article headlined: “Trump Just Hired His Next Scandal.” Trump couldn’t have cared less. His whole career, he has surrounded himself with sleazy characters such as the Russian-born mob associate Felix Sater, who served prison time for assault and later pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges, as well as lawyer-cum-fixer Michael Cohen, who is reportedly under investigation for a variety of possible crimes, including tax fraud.

.. These are the kind of people Trump feels comfortable around, because this is the kind of person Trump is. He is, after all, the guy who paid $25 million to settle fraud charges against him from students of Trump University. The guy who arranged for payoffs to a Playboy playmate and a porn star with whom he had affairs. The guy who lies an average of 7.6 times a day.

.. And because everyone knows what kind of person Trump is, he attracts kindred souls. Manafort and Gates are only Exhibits A and B. There is also Exhibit C: Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), the first member of Congress to endorse Trump, is facing federal charges of conspiracy, wire fraud and false statements as part of an alleged insider-trading scheme. Exhibit D is Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who has been accused by Forbes magazine, hardly an anti-Trump rag, of bilking business associates out of $120 million.

.. In fairness, not all of Trump’s associates are grifters. Some are simply wealthy dilettantes like Trump himself

.. Among the affluent and unqualified appointees Trump has set loose on the world are his son-in-law Jared Kushner and his former lawyer, Jason Greenblatt, who are somehow supposed to solve an Israeli-Palestinian dispute that has frustrated seasoned diplomats for decades. No surprise: Their vaunted peace plan remains MIA.

.. ProPublica has a mind-boggling scoop about another group of dilettantes — a Palm Beach doctor, an entertainment mogul, and a lawyer — whom Trump tasked as an informal board of directors to oversee the Department of Veterans Affairs. None has any experience in the U.S. military or government; their chief qualification was that they are all members of Trump’s golf club, Mar-a-Lago. 

.. Beyond the swindlers and dilettantes, there is a third group of people who have no business working for Trump or any other president: the fanatics. The most prominent of the extremists was Stephen K. Bannon, the notorious “alt-right” leader who was chief executive of Trump’s campaign and a senior White House aide. He may be gone, but others remain. They include Peter Navarro, who may well be the only economist in the world who thinks trade wars are a good thing; Stephen Miller, the nativist who was behind plans to lock immigrant children in cages and bar Muslims from entering the United States, and who is now plotting to reduce legal immigration; and Fred Fleitz, the Islamophobic chief of staff of the National Security Council. They feel at home in the White House because, aside from being a grifter and a dilettante, Trump is also an extremist with a long history of racist, sexist, nativist, protectionist and isolationist utterances

Trumpism Is a Psychology, Not an Ideology

Trump presents an insurmountable challenge to an intellectual approach to politics because his decisions aren’t based on any coherent body of ideas.

.. Former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon devoted considerable resources to promoting Trumpist candidates who supposedly shared President Trump’s worldview and parroted his rhetoric, including anti-globalism, economic nationalism, and crude insults of “establishment” politicians. Those schemes largely came to naught.

.. The intellectual effort to craft or divine a coherent Trumpist ideology didn’t fare much better. Just over a year ago, Julius Krein launched a new journal called American Affairs to “give the Trump movement some intellectual heft,”

.. On the left, there’s an enormous investment in the idea that Trump isn’t a break with conservatism but the apotheosis of it. This is a defensible, or at least understandable, claim if you believe conservatism has always been an intellectually vacuous bundle of racial and cultural resentments.

.. by his own admission, he doesn’t consult any serious and coherent body of ideas for his decisions. He trusts his instincts.

.. Trump has said countless times that he thinks his gut is a better guide than the brains of his advisers. He routinely argues that the presidents and policymakers who came before him were all fools and weaklings. That’s narcissism, not ideology, talking.

.. Even the “ideas” that he has championed consistently — despite countervailing evidence and expertise — are grounded not in arguments but in instincts.

He dislikes regulations because, as a businessman, they got in his way.

He dislikes trade because he has a childish, narrow understanding of what “winning” means. Even the “ideas” that he has championed consistently — despite countervailing evidence and expertise — are grounded not in arguments but in instincts. He dislikes regulations because, as a businessman, they got in his way. He dislikes trade because he has a childish, narrow understanding of what “winning” means.

.. The president’s attack on his attorney general’s conduct as “disgraceful” makes no political, legal, or ideological sense, but it is utterly predictable as an expression of Trump’s view that loyalty to Trump should trump everything else.

.. Likewise, his blather about skipping due process to “take the guns” was politically bizarre

.. And, of course, his decision to promote and protect his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is purely psychological. Giving Kushner the responsibility to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for all time seems like the premise of a sitcom

.. many of Trump’s biggest fans stick by him, mirroring Trump’s mode of thinking and discovering ever more extravagant ways to explain or rationalize the president’s behavior. (Krein’s abandonment of Trump was an exception to the rule.)

When Trump attacked Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Jerry Falwell Jr. of Liberty University tweeted his support, floating the idea that Sessions was an anti-Trump deep cover operative who endorsed Trump to undermine his presidency from within.

.. If this infection becomes a pandemic — a cult of personality — one could fairly call Trumpism a movement. But psychology would still be the best way to understand it.