When it comes to Israel, stakes are high for Jared Kushner

Jared Kushner's policy influence

President Trump will welcome Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House today. It’s the prime minister’s first visit after years of frosty relations with the Obama administration.

Mr. Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner has emerged as a quiet force in the Trump White House, serving as a main conduit for foreign contacts in Mexico, China and Canada, among others. But when it comes to Israel, the stakes are especially high, reports CBS News correspondent Jan Crawford. For Kushner, it’s also personal.

Who is Jared Kushner?

“If you can’t produce peace in the Middle East, nobody can,” Mr. Trump said to Kushner at a dinner on the eve of his inauguration in January.

Mr. Trump declared that Kushner could broker the “toughest deal in the world” – lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Critics point out that the 36-year-old businessman and husband of Ivanka Trump has no government or foreign policy experience. But Trump family friend and real estate mogul Thomas Barrack said that is an asset. 

“So you take his mind, his ability, dedication, his focus … And on a fresh basis, without a preconceived notion, is actually better than someone who has been in foreign policy for 60 years,” Barrack said.

“Jared’s agenda is not confused. It’s perfectly aligned with the president’s,” Barrack also said.

Foreign leaders were skeptical of Kushner, at least initially, according to the Washington Post’s Philip Rucker.

“They sort of assumed … he’s probably in over his head. He might be a spoiled kid of the president and yet he’s been very impressive to them,” Rucker said. 

In fact, Kushner has been pivotal in shaping the U.S.-Mexico relationship, Rucker said.

“Jared Kushner led the Mexican foreign minister into the Oval Office where they talked to President Trump and they advised him to tone down his rhetoric about Mexico,” Rucker said.

Mr. Trump did just that in a speech.

“We also understand that a strong and healthy economy in Mexico is very good for the United States,” Mr. Trump said.

However Kushner’s counsel was short lived.  

“It was the next morning, of course, where Trump went on Twitter and got into a feud with the president of Mexico and the whole thing seemed to blow up,” Rucker said.

Kushner’s value lies in his ability to listen and distill information, and to do so without an agenda, Barrack said. 

“He understands how the president thinks probably better than anybody. And most importantly to the president, he’s trustworthy,” Barrack said.

Critics say Kushner, an Orthodox Jew, is pushing Mr. Trump toward a more hardline stance on Israel. But no administration over the course of four decades has been able to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict. But Barrack said with a new set of leaders in the Arab world wanting a solution, the timing is right. 

“Israel aligned with tolerant Islam is the answer,” Barrack said. “And I think that that’s what Jared… is pushing towards… trying to use those relationships and a clean canvas with his influence on the president to say, ‘Have a soft hand, be culturally sensitive. This would be an opportunity for you, Mr. President, to maybe do something along the lines of what President Reagan and [Margaret] Thatcher did in bringing down the wall.”

We don’t expect there to be any policy pronouncements about the peace process coming out of today’s meeting between Mr. Trump and Netanyahu. Iran will be atop the agenda, as both parties now believe that enforcement of the Iran deal is the best path forward. We don’t know exactly what Kushner’s role will be, but he did have dinner with Netanyahu and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson last night.