Washington is willing to engage with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas if he returns to negotiations, but if he is not willing, the United States will likely air its long-awaited blueprint for peace publicly, Jared Kushner said in a rare interview published Sunday in a Palestinian newspaper.
Kushner, US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, made his comments to Al-Quds at the end of a five-country regional tour with Mideast negotiator Jason Greenblatt to promote the US plan. The PA has boycotted the duo and rejected the plan even before it has been released.
Kushner said he did “not directly” reach out to Abbas for a meeting, saying the Palestinian leader “knows that we are open to meeting him and continuing the discussion when he is ready. He has said publicly he will not meet us and we have opted not to chase him.”
Kushner said the plan will be ready “soon,” adding, “We are almost done.”
While saying he has no reason not to believe Abbas when the Palestinian leader says he is committed to peace, Kushner did question how much Abbas “has the ability to, or is willing to, lean into finishing a deal.”
Abbas, Kushner said, “has his talking points which have not changed in the last 25 years. There has been no peace deal achieved in that time. To make a deal, both sides will have to take a leap and meet somewhere between their stated positions. I am not sure President Abbas has the ability to do that.”
Kushner, who said the US team “has done a lot of listening,” said the Palestinian people do not feel like their lives are getting better, “and there is only so long you can blame that on everyone other than Palestinian leadership.”
He said that the Palestinians are “less invested in the politicians’ talking points than they are in seeing how a deal will give them and their future generations new opportunities, more and better paying jobs and prospects for a better life.”
The international community, he added, “is getting frustrated with Palestinian leadership and not seeing many actions that are constructive toward achieving peace. There are a lot of sharp statements and condemnations, but no ideas or efforts with prospects of success.”
Kushner said there are those who maintained that Abbas is only focused on his political survival “and cementing a legacy of not having compromised than on bettering the lives of the Palestinian people.”
Asked whether he thought that was the case, Kushner replied, “I hope not. My job is to work with the parties in charge, so I am ready to work with President Abbas if he is willing.”
Kushner, in a direct message to Palestinians, urged them “not to reject a plan they haven’t even seen.”
“A lot has happened in the world since this conflict began decades ago,” he said. “The world has moved forward while you have been left behind. Don’t allow your grandfather’s conflict to determine your children’s future.”
Kushner, who along with Greenblatt, met Saturday evening with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – their second meeting in two days – provided no specifics on the contours of the plan, but touted the significant economic benefits that could be derived from a deal.
“Think about the prospects for the Palestinian people over a five to 20-year horizon if they get massive investments in modern infrastructure, job training and economic stimulus” he said.
“The Palestinian people are industrious, well-educated and adjacent to the Silicon Valley of the Middle East – Israel,” Kushner added. “Israel’s prosperity would spill over very quickly to the Palestinians if there is peace.”
Kushner, in his only nod during the interview to the idea of a two-state solution, said while he believes strongly that “to make a peace deal you need to define and have secure borders, economically you want to eliminate boundaries and allow the economies to become more integrated to increase the opportunity and prosperity for all of the people – including the Jordanians and Egyptians and beyond.”
Asked by the interviewer, Al Quds editor-in-chief Walid Abu-Zalaf, if this means that what is being worked on is a regional plan, Kushner replied: “The actual deal points are between the Israelis and the Palestinians, but the economic plan we are working on can show what comes as part of a deal when it is achieved with some massive investments that will extend to the Jordanian and Egyptian people as well.”
Before coming to Jerusalem on the current trip, Kushner and Greenblatt visited Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Asked what the most important points in the plan were for the Arab leaders, he replied a Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital.
He said Arab leaders also want to see the Palestinians enjoying economic opportunity and dignity, and a deal that “brings about a realistic solution to the issues that have been debated for decades.”
They all insisted, Kushner said, “that al-Aqsa Mosque remain open to all Muslims who wish to worship.”
Regarding the situation in the Gaza Strip, Kushner said the people there are “hostages to bad leadership,” and as long at rockets are being fired and terror tunnels are being dug, “there will be a choke hold on resources allowed to enter. It’s a vicious cycle.”
Kushner said the only way to solve the problem is for the people of Gaza to “encourage the leadership to aim for a true cease-fire that gives Israel and Egypt the confidence to start allowing more commerce and goods” into the coastal strip.
Kushner took sharp issue with veteran Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat’s charge that the US is trying to divide Gaza from the West Bank.
“The last I checked they are divided, they are not connected by government or land and it’s needlessly become a dire humanitarian situation because the Palestinian leadership has made it a political situation,” he said.
Kushner said Gaza’s “downward spiral” over the last decade has been “greatly exacerbated by the PA’s salary cuts.”
“It’s time for the Palestinian Authority and Hamas to stop using the people of Gaza as pawns,” he said. “The narrative of victimhood may feel good for the moment and help you grab headlines, but it doesn’t do anything to improve lives.”
Netanyahu, at the weekly cabinet meeting, said there was a “special focus” in his talks with Kushner and Greenblatt on the situation in Gaza.
“I must say that there was absolute support for our positions and our actions to ensure the security of the State of Israel and its citizens in the area adjacent to the Gaza Strip, which was expressed publicly by the American administration’s envoys” he said. “The issue also came up of how it might be possible to resolve the humanitarian problem in Gaza without strengthening Hamas.”
Education Minister Naftali Bennett, meanwhile, let it be known that Israel will not automatically sign on to what the US might put in the plan.
“In the past few days, we have been hearing about a proposal that might come from the United States to the region. We will study in depth any proposal out of respect and friendship to the United States, which has proven that it views Israel as a national strategic asset and sees importance in Israel’s security,” he said. “With that, we will definitely insist on the national security interests of the State of Israel.”