Rules for Jared Kushner
By Bret Stephens
Wall Street Journal
February 13, 2017
Jared Kushner will get his first real taste of Mideast
diplomacy this week, when his father-in-law receives Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu at the White House. Since the 36-year-old former newspaper
publisher has been widely touted as the administration’s point man on
Israeli-Arab issues, this week’s column humbly offers four rules Mr. Kushner
ought to observe in the months and years ahead.
(1) The Clifford Rule. After stepping down as Lyndon
Johnson’s defense secretary in 1969, the late Clark Clifford settled
into the life of a Washington superlawyer—the sort of man who, for a price,
could open all the right doors for his clients and fix some of their worst
Approached by a man with one such problem, Clifford
considered the matter, then advised: “Do nothing.”
Two days later, the man got a bill from Clifford for
$10,000. Infuriated that such seemingly simple advice would cost so whopping a
sum, he marched into Clifford’s office to remonstrate.
Clifford replied: “Do nothing.” He then sent the man a
bill for an additional $10,000.
The moral of this (perhaps apocryphal) story is that “do
nothing” is often the best advice—and that failing to heed it can cost you
Had John Kerry adopted the Clifford Rule, he
might have been spared his fruitless yearlong foray into Israeli-Palestinian
peace talks, which led to the 2014 Gaza War. Had Condoleezza Rice adopted
it, she might not have advocated Palestinian elections that led to victory for
Hamas in 2006. Had Bill Clinton taken it, he might have been spared
the diplomatic humiliation of being spurned by Yasser Arafat at Camp
David in 2000.
(2) The Kissinger Rule. If “do nothing”
is generally good advice, what’s Mr. Kushner supposed to do?
Henry Kissinger once observed that “when enough
bureaucratic prestige has been invested in a policy, it is easier to see it fail
than to abandon it.” So it is with the formulas that govern official U.S.
thinking toward the Arab-Israeli conflict: “land for peace” and the
“two-state solution.” The State Department has been rolling those boulders
up the hill for 50 years, and still it thinks one last push will do the trick.
The Kissinger Rule disposes with the futility. It says that
if you can’t solve a small problem, fix the larger one that encompasses it. So
it was with Taiwan and the “One China” policy, or with Egypt and its
post-1973 realignment with the U.S.
For Mr. Kushner, that means the goal of diplomacy isn’t
to “solve” the Palestinian problem. It’s to anesthetize it through a
studied combination of economic help and diplomatic neglect. The real prize lies
in further cultivating Jerusalem’s ties to Cairo, Riyadh, Amman and Abu Dhabi,
as part of an Alliance of Moderates and Modernizers that can defeat Sunni and
Shiite radicals from Raqqa to Tehran. The goal should be to make Palestinian
leaders realize over time that they are the region’s atavism, not its future.
(3) The Bush Rule. In 2004, George W. Bush
and then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon exchanged letters in which the
president acknowledged that the world had changed since 1967.
“In light of new realities on the ground, including
already existing major Israeli populations centers,” Mr. Bush wrote, “it is
unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a
full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.”
The point of the Bush Rule is to dispose with the flimflam
that the Mideast’s contrived borders are sacred. And the best place Mr.
Kushner could put the Bush Rule to use is to offer U.S. recognition of Israeli
sovereignty over the Golan Heights, captured in 1967 from Syria.
The benefits: Nobody there, including 20,000 Druze, wants
to be ruled by Damascus. U.S. recognition would put the Assad regime and its
Iranian and Russian backers on notice that there’s a price for barbaric
behavior. And it gives the administration an opportunity to demonstrate its
pro-Israel bona fides while exerting a restraining influence on settlement
building in the West Bank.
(4) The Shultz Rule. Ronald Reagan’s secretary
of state held to a clear principle when it came to negotiating with tough
adversaries: Establish a reasonable position, announce your bottom line, stick
to it. No haggling. It proved effective in dealing with Soviet arms negotiators.
The overworked metaphor for Mideast diplomacy is the
bazaar. The secret to not losing one’s shirt is not to enter the bazaar in the
The U.S. cannot solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict;
only Palestinians can. The U.S. does have an interest in strengthening ties
between its allies, both for their own sake and to counter their common enemies.
If the Palestinians want to be a part of the solution, so much the better. If
they want to continue to be a part of the problem, they can live with the
The principles are straightforward. The courage to stick to
them will be the test of Mr. Kushner’s diplomatic mettle.