U.S. Slashed Palestinian Aid as a Result of Decisions by Their Leadership, Kushner Says

Senior White House adviser says he hopes Palestinians 'can become capable of governing,' and states that his father-in-law Trump is not racist

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner at a dinner symposium of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) in Washington, U.S., May 2, 2019.
\ Yuri Gripas/ REUTERS

WASHINGTON — Jared Kushner said Sunday that the Trump administration’s slashing of U.S. aid to the Palestinians was “a result of decisions taken by the Palestinian leadership."

During an interview with Axios journalist Jonathan Swan broadcast on HBO Sunday, Kushner — a senior adviser and son-in-law to U.S. President Donald Trump — was asked about the massive cuts in U.S. aid to the Palestinians the Trump administration made last year. He replied that the Palestinian Authority was to blame, and that the cuts occurred because the PA cut all ties with the Trump administration following its recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in December 2017.

"If we make certain decisions that we’re allowed to do as a sovereign nation,” Kushner said, referring to the embassy move, “and we get criticized by that government [the PA], the response of [Trump] is not to say, ‘Oh let me give you more aid.’ So again, that was as a result of decisions taken by the Palestinian leadership."

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Last year, the Trump administration made sweeping cuts to aid benefiting Palestinian civilians in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. At the time, American officials did not officially state that these cuts were related to the government’s political battles with the Palestinian leadership but instead offered vague, budget-related responses to any questions on the subject.

Kushner’s statement marks the first time that a senior U.S. official has publicly acknowledged that the aid cuts were meant to serve as a diplomatic punishment for political decisions made by the PA leadership.

The administration’s aid cuts caused very little damage to the PA itself, but took a toll on civilian institutions and groups, some of which have no relationship at all with the PA. The administration cut $25 million from East Jerusalem hospitals — operating under full Israeli control — that serve cancer patients and the blind.

It also cut $10 million from a special budget for encouraging “people-to-people” relationships between Israelis and Palestinians, such as joint soccer games between children. Aid to the PA’s security forces, which operate under President Mahmoud Abbas and cooperate with Israeli security forces to prevent terror attacks and maintain stability in the West Bank, was left untouched.

Kushner is a major player in the Trump administration’s peacemaking efforts between Israel and the Palestinian leadership, including Trump's peace plan, whose economic component will be unveiled in Bahrain at the end of the month.

When asked whether he understands why Palestinians do not trust him as a fair mediator in this conflict, Kusher said, “I’m not here to be trusted.” He explained that “there’s a difference between the Palestinian leadership and the Palestinian people,” claiming that the Palestinian people “want to have a better life” and that facts, rather than trust, will be the determining factor.

Kushner said he supports “self-determination” for the Palestinians, but did not explicitly say if they should have their own state. When asked whether or not he believed Palestinians should govern themselves as part of a future peace deal, Kushner replied, “The hope is that, over time, they can become capable of governing.”

When Swan pressed him specifically on whether the Palestinians will be able to live free of Israeli military control, Kushner said that “I think that’s a high bar,” explaining that “If you don’t have a proper government structure and proper security when people are living in fear of terror, that hurts Palestinians."

During the conversation, Swan also pressed Kushner on whether Trump is racist. Kushner defended Trump from the accusation, but evaded repeated questions from Swan about Trump’s embrace and promotion of “birtherism” — the false and racist conspiracy theory that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States.

Kushner answered that he personally “wasn’t involved in it” and that “it was a long time ago.”