Jared Kushner has revealed new contours of the upcoming US peace plan for the Middle East, indicating that it will pull back from long-standing mentions of a two-state solution with the Palestinians and accept Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Kushner, the son-in-law and senior adviser to President Donald Trump, is expected next month to present a long-awaited deal on behalf of the US administration, which has closely aligned itself with Israel.
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Vowing to take a fresh approach, Kushner on Thursday gave the administration’s strongest indication yet that the plan will not propose two states for Israelis and Palestinians – for decades the US-backed goal in marathon peace talks.
“If you say ‘two-state’, it means one thing to the Israelis, it means one thing to the Palestinians,” Kushner said at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
“We said, you know, let’s just not say it. Let’s just say, let’s work on the details of what this means,” he said.
It was the latest in a series of recent public appearances Kushner has made to lay the groundwork for rolling out the plan, which has been two years in the making. In recent weeks, Kushner has also made appearances at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California, a secretive Republican gathering in Sea Island, Georgia, and at the Times 100 Summit in New York City.
Kushner declined to give extensive details about the plan before its release but, asked if it would cover the final status between Israelis and Palestinians, he said: “That’s correct, we will.”
He is trying to persuade academics, congresspeople, former Middle East negotiators, regional players, special interest groups and potential spoilers to have an open mind and seriously consider the plan when it’s released, which won’t be before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan ends in the first week of June, and perhaps not even then.
He said the plan attempts to ensure security for Israel and provide economic opportunity to improve the lives of Palestinians.
Palestinian-US relations severed
The effort by Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, special representative for international negotiations, has been conducted without participation from the Palestinians. The Palestinian Authority, which has complained that White House favours Israel, severed ties with the Trump administration following several actions targeting them.
Trump closed the Palestinian diplomatic mission in Washington, saying the Palestinians refused to engage in peace talks with Israel.
The US has also stopped funding the United Nations agency that helps Palestinian refugees, slashing hundreds of millions of dollars in aid for projects in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip and cutting funding to hospitals in Jerusalem that serve Palestinians.
Trump also recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moved the US embassy there from Tel Aviv.
Kushner said his team had spoken to Palestinian businesspeople and ordinary residents and believed the peace plan will be “very acceptable to them”.
The Palestinian leadership has already said it does not accept mediation by Trump, whose evangelical Christian base is fervently pro-Israel and whose long list of actions in support of the Jewish state includes moving the US embassy to Jerusalem.
Kushner has reached out to oil-rich Gulf Arabs in an apparent bid to create economic incentives for occupied Palestinians.
“It’s been very disheartening for us to see the Palestinian leadership has basically been attacking a plan (when) they don’t know what it is,” Kushner said.
“If they truly cared about making the lives of the Palestinian people better, I think they would have taken very different decisions over the past year – and maybe over the last 20 years,” he said.
Withdrawal from occupied territories unknown
Nothing is known about how the plan addresses the Palestinians’ demand that Israel fully withdraws from all territories it occupies. Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war. The Palestinian leadership wants those territories for a future state.
They also seek the right of refugees to return to the lands and the recognition of East Jerusalem as the capital of an independent Palestine.
Kushner, who is also widely distrusted by the Palestinians for his family ties with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said Trump asked him before his Jerusalem decision how it would affect peace prospects.
“The answer I gave him was I think short-term, it’s probably harder, because people will be more reactive and emotional,” Kushner said.
“But long-term I think it helps because what we need to start doing is just recognising truths, and I think that when we recognised Jerusalem, that is a truth – Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, and that would be part of any final agreement anyway,” he said.