Kushner says his peace plan won't say 'two states'
WASHINGTON - White House senior adviser Jared Kushner said on Thursday he hopes Israel will take a hard look at President Donald Trump's upcoming Middle East peace proposal before proceeding with any plan to annex West Bank settlements.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had vowed in the waning days of a re-election campaign he won on April 9 to annex Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, in a move that would be bound to trigger condemnation from the Palestinians and the Arab world and complicate the US peace effort.
Netanyahu's stance has alienated even longtime advocates for Israel within the US Democratic Party, who question whether the nation can remain both Jewish and democratic while millions of Palestinians live under occupation.
Kushner, speaking at a dinner of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the Middle East peace proposal he has been putting together was close to release and that Israel and the Palestinians should wait to see it before making any unilateral moves.
He said the issue would be discussed with the Israeli government when Netanyahu forms a governing coalition.
"I hope both sides will take a real look at it, the Israeli side and the Palestinian side, before any unilateral steps are made," Kushner said, adding he had not discussed the issue of settlement annexation with Netanyahu.
Kushner and Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt have spent the past two years developing the peace proposal in the hopes it will provide a framework for a renewed dialogue between the Israelis and Palestinians.
The Palestinians have refused to talk to the US side since Trump decided to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel.
The Palestinians want to establish a state in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, all territory Israel captured in 1967.
Kushner says he 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.
Kushner, who is married to Trump's daughter Ivanka, is expected to unveil his proposals in June after the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
"What we will be able to put together is a solution that we believe is a good starting point for the political issues and then an outline for what can be done to help these people start living a better life," Kushner said.
"I was given the assignment of trying to find a solution between the two sides and I think what we'll put forward is a framework that I think is realistic ... it's executable and it's something that I do think will lead to both sides being much better off," Kushner said.
Political, economic components
Kushner has begun to take a more public role in the Trump administration since he emerged unscathed from U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe into whether the Trump presidential campaign in 2016 colluded with Russia.
Trump has relied heavily on the 38-year-old Kushner, who helped develop prison reform legislation and a new US-Mexico-Canada trade deal, and is also working on a US immigration proposal.
The Middle East proposal, which has been delayed for a variety of reasons over the past 18 months, has two major components. It has a political piece that addresses core issues such as the status of Jerusalem, and an economic part that aims to help the Palestinians strengthen their economy.
Vowing to take a fresh approach, Kushner 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.
On Thursday night, he called on critics to hold their fire until they are able to see the plan in its entirety.
Palestinians have voiced skepticism about the effort led by Trump's son-in-law, who was a real estate developer before joining his father-in-law as a senior White House adviser.
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 recognizing truths, and I think that when we recognized Jerusalem, that is a truth -- Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, and that would be part of any final agreement anyway," he said.
Arab officials and analysts believe the plan is likely to be decidedly pro-Israel since the Trump administration has taken a tough line toward Palestinians, cutting off aid and ordering the PLO's office in Washington shut.
The Trump administration's cutting of US aid in particular has been interpreted by analysts as forcing greater economic pressure on the Palestinian Authority to accept Kushner's peace framework, described by the US President - who has previously said he is "the best dealmaker" - as the "ultimate deal" and the "deal of the century".
Greenblatt, however, has insisted that US negotiators expect Israelis and Palestinians will both be critical of some parts of the plan.
Kushner acknowledged that he may not be the one who finally makes peace in the Middle East, but said he at the very least wanted to "change the discussion."
"Our approach has been, if we're going to fail, we don't want to fail doing it the same way it's been done in the past," he said.
But Kushner, whose role in government alongside his wife Ivanka Trump has drawn heated criticism on ethical grounds, is at least assured of support in one key corner.
"When you work for a president, you try hard not to disappoint, but you can disappoint. When you work for your father-in-law, you can't disappoint."