Kushner Questions Whether Palestinians Can Govern Themselves
(Bloomberg) -- Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner said in an interview that the Palestinians aren’t yet able to govern themselves and declined to promise them an independent state in the White House’s long-awaited Mideast peace plan.
“The hope is that they over time will become capable of governing,” Kushner said in an interview with Axios on HBO that aired on Sunday.
Kushner is leading a White House effort to draft a new peace proposal for the Israelis and Palestinians, and Trump said Sunday he believed a deal could probably be reached. The effort faltered after Trump announced in 2017 he would move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. The Palestinians have said they will boycott an economic conference in Bahrain this month that Kushner arranged as a first step in the peace plan.
In the interview, Kushner repeatedly criticized Palestinian leaders, drawing a distinction between their drive for an independent state and what he said was the Palestinian people’s desire to live in peace and prosperity. Kushner is notoriously press-averse and the interview represents some of his most extensive public remarks since joining his father-in-law’s administration.
“There are some things the current Palestinian government has done well, and there are some things that are lacking,” Kushner said. “And I do think that in order for the area to be investable, for investors to want to come in and invest in different industry and infrastructure and create jobs, you do need to have a fair judicial system, you need to have freedom of press, freedom of expression, tolerance for all religions.”
Many U.S. allies in the region, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, are autocracies that reject the democratic principles Kushner demanded of the Palestinian government.
Kushner would not commit to U.S. support for an independent Palestinian state and said there’s a “high bar” for Palestinians to be free from interference in their affairs by the Israeli government and military.
“If you don’t have a proper governance structure and proper security, when people are living in fear of terror that hurts the Palestinians, it hurts the Israelis just the same,” Kushner said.
Kushner declared that “I’m not here to be trusted” by the Palestinian leadership and blamed them for Trump’s decisions to cut U.S. aid for Palestinian territories and close their diplomatic office in Washington. Kushner suggested the moves were punishment for Palestinian criticism of the embassy move.
“The actions we’ve taken were because, America’s aid is not an entitlement,” he said. “If we make certain decisions -- which we’re allowed to as a sovereign nation, to respect the rights of another sovereign nation -- and we get criticized by that government, the response of this president is not to say ‘Oh let me give you more aid.’ That is a result of decisions taken by the Palestinian leadership.”
Trump said Sunday that the U.S. was “doing our best” to achieve a peace plan for the region. “I think we have a good chance, but we’ll see what happens,” he told reporters at the White House, before departing for the U.K.
Kushner has made repeated trips to the Middle East to meet with Israeli and Arab leaders, but U.S. contact with the Palestinian leadership has all but ended. Asked how he knew what the Palestinian people want, he suggested he had spoken with Palestinian figures he didn’t identify.
“We’ve been talking with a lot of people privately for two years now,” he said. “One thing about the way I’ve conducted myself is not a lot of people know who I’ve been talking to or what I’ve been talking about.”
The exact timing for Kushner’s peace plan has always been unclear, and he didn’t say when it would be released in the Axios interview. The Bahrain conference “will facilitate discussions on an ambitious, achievable vision and framework for a prosperous future for the Palestinian people and the region,” the White House said last month.
Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said the plan might not “gain traction,” according to the Washington Post on Sunday, citing a recording of a private meeting with Jewish leaders. “Could be in the end, folks will say, ‘It’s not particularly original, it doesn’t particularly work for me,’ that is, ‘it’s got two good things and nine bad things, I’m out,” Pompeo said, according to the Post.
Trump did not dispute the story, and stood by Pompeo. “When Mike says that, I understand when he says that, because most people think it can’t be done. I think it probably can,” Trump told reporters Sunday. “As I say often, we’ll see what happens.”
The Axios interview touched on other subjects, including U.S. support for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman after the October killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Kushner said Saudi Arabia is a long-term U.S. ally, and “we feel like we are in a position now where there is a lot of interests that we have that are shared with them, and our goal is to pursue those interests.” He declined to say whether he’s spoken with the crown prince about Khashoggi’s death and would not concede that he or the Saudi government was responsible.
“Look, it’s a horrific thing that happened and what we’ve done is call for full transparency. We are working on an investigation to get to the bottom of what happened,” he said.
Kushner ruled out ever running for office himself and said that his father-in-law is “absolutely not” a racist. But he repeatedly declined to say whether Trump’s public campaign to raise suspicion about whether former President Barack Obama was born in Hawaii, known as “birtherism,” was racist.
“I wasn’t involved in that,” Kushner said.
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