Kushner Attacks Abbas in Rare Palestinian Interview, Questions His Ability to Reach a Deal

Trump envoy tells Al-Quds that if Palestinian president won't engage, U.S. administration will present the plan to the public

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Senior White House Advisor Jared Kushner.
AP /Majdi Mohammed, JOSHUA ROBERTS/REUTERS

WASHINGTON – Jared Kushner, U.S. President Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, gave a rare interview over the weekend to the Palestinian newspaper Al-Quds. Kushner spoke about the United States administration's peace plan, and criticized the blanket rejection Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has expressed for the plan before it has even been presented.

The interview is considered an attempt to speak directly to the Palestinian people at a time when the Palestinian leadership refuses to engage with the Trump administration. 

>> Trump Mideast envoy: The Palestinians deserve so much more than Saeb ErekatErekat fires back: Kushner and Greenblatt trying to topple the Palestinian Authority

"President Abbas says that he is committed to peace and I have no reason not to believe him," said Kushner. "However, I do question how much President Abbas has the ability to, or is willing to, lean into finishing a deal. He 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."

Abbas and other Palestinian officials have accused Kushner and the administration of completely accepting Israel's positions, and pushing for a plan that won't include an independent and viable Palestinian state.

White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner speaks during the dedication ceremony of the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, May 14, 2018.
\ RONEN ZVULUN/ REUTERS

Kushner expressed respect for Abbas' efforts to establish a foundation for peace over the years, but added that he does not think the Palestinian people feel like their lives are getting better.

"There is only so long you can blame that on everyone other than the Palestinian leadership," he said. "The global community is getting frustrated with Palestinian leadership and not seeing many constructive actions towards achieving peace."

When asked about the timing of the plan's publication, Kushner said "Soon. We are almost done."

Kushner didn't say, however, what will be the parameters of the administration's peace plan, stating only that he believes that for a deal to be made, "both parties will need to gain more than they give and to feel confident that the lives of their people will be better off in decades from now because of the compromises they make. It will be up to the leadership and the people of both sides to determine what is an acceptable compromise in exchange for significant gains."

Speaking of the meetings he and Jason Greenblatt, President Trump's special envoy to the peace process, held last week with leaders in Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, Kushner stressed the leaders "all care a lot about the Palestinian people," and know their lives can only be made better when there is a deal that is mutually agreed upon by both sides. "They know that it is a tough deal to make, which is why it has eluded both sides for decades, but they all acknowledge the good that will come to the region if an understanding of peace is achieved."

Kushner added that the Arab leaders he met "want to see a Palestinian state with a capital in East Jerusalem. They want a deal where the Palestinian people can live in peace and be afforded the same economic opportunities as the citizens of their own countries. They want to see a deal that respects the dignity of the Palestinians and brings about a realistic solution to the issues that have been debated for decades. They all insist that Al Aqsa Mosque remain open to all Muslims who wish to worship."

Kushner also spoke at length about the potential for economic development for the Palestinians and the region. He said that "the Palestinian people are industrious, well-educated and adjacent to the Silicon Valley of the Middle East - Israel. Israel’s prosperity would spill over very quickly to the Palestinians if there is peace. Many countries from around the world are ready to invest if there is a peace agreement. I feel strongly that while in order 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."

He added that "the actual details of the deal are between the Israelis and the Palestinians, but the economic plan we are working on will extend to the Jordanian and Egyptian people as well. This conflict has held the whole region back and there is so much untapped potential that can be released if peace is achieved."

Kushner also said that "each of the political issues is very controversial and there are people on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides who will object to any compromise. We think that the deal should be looked at by both sides as a package and both sides should ask themselves – are we better off with what we are getting in exchange for what we are giving? Not everyone will agree that it’s the right package, but reaching for peace takes courage."

Despite his criticism of Abbas, Kushner emphasized that the administration is still interested in working with him, and is not trying to bypass him. "My job is to work with the parties in charge, so I am ready to work with President Abbas if he is willing. There is a good deal to be done here from what I assess," he stated.

Kushner reiterated what he had told Haaretz last week, adding that if Abbas won't engage with the peace plan, the administration could decide to take the plan directly to the public. Kushner added that it's possible that the Palestinian leadership has been attacking the Trump administration in recent weeks because "they worry that when the plan is published, it will turn out the Palestinian people love it."