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With Flynn gone, Jared Kushner is likely to get his moment on Israel

Franco Ordonez and Kevin G. Hall, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- The sudden resignation of Michael Flynn as national security adviser has left a leadership void on Middle East issues that President Donald Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, looks poised to fill.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Trump met face-to-face Wednesday for the first time since Trump's inauguration, and both focused on common goals such as combating Iran's nuclear ambitions in their remarks. But with Flynn out of the picture, Iran is expected to become a bit less of a focus, allowing Kushner to direct the conversation more toward peace.

"In the absence of Flynn it will accentuate in the short term him being a point person early on," said David Makovsky, a former Obama administration senior adviser on peace talks.

Kushner, who is Jewish, is one of the president's most trusted advisers. His office is just a couple of doors down from the Oval Office. Despite not having government experience, Kushner, 35, is expected to play a crucial role in pursuing Trump goals to help broker a peace deal, according to the president.

In a startling display of their close relationship, Netanyahu referred to Kushner almost like an uncle on Wednesday. During the joint news conference with Trump in the East Room, Netanyahu brought up his long relationship with Kushner to highlight the strong support he said Israel had received from Trump and his team.

"I've known President Trump for many years," Netanyahu said, before turning to Kushner, seated in the audience. "Can I reveal, Jared, how long I've known you? Well, he was never small; he was always big."

How that familiarity will color U.S.-Israel relations is still to be seen. But Trump's and Netanyahu's statements at their news conference show that much remains in flux.

Trump seemed to pull back from decades of U.S. support for a Palestinian state alongside Israel, saying he would accept whatever Israelis and Palestinians agree on, whether it be one state or two.

He also did not repeat his campaign pledge to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. "We're looking at it very, very strongly," Trump said. "We're looking at it with great care, great care, believe me. And we'll see what happens."

Trump told Netanyahu on Wednesday that peace with the Palestinians was important to him and that he would push for a peace deal. But he emphasized the right deal is one that works for both sides and they had to negotiate. He asked the prime minister to "hold back on settlements for a little bit."

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