WASHINGTON – Jared Kushner, U.S. President Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, said in an interview released on Wednesday that he hopes Israel will not annex settlements before the upcoming election. Kushner said the United States is preparing to discuss the technical details of annexation with Israel, but that this discussion "will take time."
Kushner spoke with Gzero Media, a website focused on global affairs. In response to a question about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's announcement that he will bring annexation to a governmental vote as soon as next week, Kushner said, "Let's see what happens. The hope is that they'll wait until after the election," which is scheduled for March 2.
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Kushner's statements counter those of the prime minister, who had promised Israeli journalists in a briefing after his joint appearance with Trump on Tuesday that the settlements will be annexed on Sunday. When Kushner was asked whether the Trump administration would support an immediate annexation measure, Kushner said, "No, we've agreed with them on forming a technical team to start studying the maps."
The administration will start work on the technical aspects of the "deal of the century," Kushner said, but "we'd need an Israeli government in place" in order to advance, rather than the Netanyahu-led interim government that does not form a Knesset majority.
Kushner also published an article on CNN Wednesday, in which he stated that the ultimate goal of his plan is “a two-state solution and mutual recognition,” and that the plan “calls for the creation of an internationally recognized State of Palestine.”
If the plan succeeds, he wrote, "President Trump will be proud to stand with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas when we fly the American flag over the U.S. Embassy to the State of Palestine for the first time."
Kushner wrote that the proposed state will be “connected, independent and comparable in size to the entire West Bank and Gaza today,” referring to a series of new roads and tunnels that would be built throughout the West Bank and Gaza, as well as between the two territories. Kushner's proposal allows Israel to annex 30 percent of the West Bank, and offsets the growth via "land swaps" in two parts of Israel.
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One land swap would include the area known as “the triangle,” a cluster of Israeli Arab towns and villages northeast of the Tel Aviv suburbs. It is home to more than 100,000 Israeli citizens. The Kushner plan could lead to those citizens being annexed to any future Palestinian state – an idea the vast majority of its residents oppose.
After the plan’s release, and following strong criticism of this suggestion from Israel's Arab community, U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman told journalists that “no one is being stripped of citizenship. We don’t propose that.” It is unclear, however, how citizens in those towns could remain Israeli citizens in practice if they were to become part of the Palestinian state.
The plan also proposes handing over sections of the southwestern corner of the Negev to the Palestinian state, which would be connected to Gaza through a narrow road. This area includes several small Israeli agricultural communities, and the head of the local Israeli regional council has already expressed strong opposition to any change in status for territory in the region.
“Past experience has shown us that no peace agreement can be successful unless it fully meets Israel's security requirements," Kushner wrote. "Our plan does not ask Israel to take additional security risks.” Indeed, under the plan, Israel will retain full security responsibility for the entire West Bank.
He added, however, that they have provided a method that would allow Israel to loosen its grip on the West Bank's security while still maintaining responsibility: “This process will be based on a single guiding principle: the more Palestinians do, the less Israel will have to do.” The implementation of this formula requires the Palestinians to first of all accept all the other elements in the plan, starting with the annexation of all the settlements.
The article also expands on the plan's economic aspects, including a $50 billion economic package for the Palestinians and measures to help Palestinians compete in the global economy, and a platform for fostering normalization between Israel and Arab states.
The Palestinians, he acknowledged, have come out against aspects of the plan. "But to address them," Kushner wrote, "they should identify the areas they would like to improve and agree to negotiate with Israel. Failure to do so would be to miss an opportunity which may never come again."
It is not yet clear whether the Palestinians will be able to negotiate on the contents of the plan without first accepting the parts of it with which they disagree, such as annexation or the recognition of almost all of East Jerusalem – which is home to hundreds of thousands of Palestinians – as part of Israel.
Kushner’s article implies that the Palestinian Authority will not have to agree to these terms in order to enter negotiations. Israeli officials said otherwise during Tuesday's press briefings after Netanyahu’s joint appearance with Trump.