WASHINGTON – Jared Kushner, U.S. President Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser on Middle East peace, said Sunday that Israel needs to reach a peace deal with the Palestinians before it can form an alliance with the greater Arab world.
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Kushner was addressing the Saban Forum in Washington about the Trump administration's peace efforts. He was speaking along with Haim Saban, the Israeli-born business mogul who funds the annual conference on U.S. policy in the Middle East organized by the Brookings Institution.
"The president has a very long career of accomplishing things that a lot of people think are impossible," Kushner said. "The most recent example of that is the election. When we started the process of looking at how to create the peace deal, the first thing a lot of people told us was that it wasn't the right time, that we're wasting our time."
Kushner added that "I think that if we're going to try and create more stability in the region as a whole, this issue has to be solved."
Kushner addressed criticism of the Trump administration's handling of the conflict, saying that "it's not a conventional team, but it's a perfectly qualified team. When we were thinking how to put a team together, the president and I focused on who are the most qualified people."
"There's no better real estate lawyer than Jason Greenblatt, and there are a lot of real estate issues related to this. We have Dina Powell, who has been very instrumental in helping us develop a regional economic plan for what could happen after a peace agreement. We're focused on what happens after an agreement – how do you create a better environment down the road," Kushner said.
"We have an open and honest dialogue with both sides, our conversations have opened up a lot. I think there are a lot of instances of great trust between Israelis and Palestinians, but not along the leadership. I've seen a lot of cases of Israelis and Palestinians working together and having great relationships," he added.
"Both sides really trust the president, and that's very important. The fact that both sides trust him has been very important. As this process has gone through, our team has tried very hard to do a lot of listening – not just with Israelis, with Palestinians. [It] understands what their views and red lines are. We've done the same with different countries in the region. We're trying to find a solution that comes from the region, not to impose."
As Kushner told Saban, "We've been very focused on the deal, spending seven to eight months, and you see a lot of reasons why this has failed – there are a lot of distractions that come up. But I tell my guys – we're not chasing rabbits. A lot of the issues that come up on a daily basis are because of not having a final-status agreement. We try to stay focused on solving the bigger issues."
Regional dynamics play a big role in opportunities, he said.
"A lot of countries in the Middle East want the same thing – economic progress, peace for their people. Many countries in the region see Israel as a much more likely ally than it was 20 years ago because of Iran, because of ISIS. A lot of people want to see it put together," Kushner said.
"We've made significant progress. It will take some time, but if you look at the last years before we came into office, a lot of countries felt Iran was being emboldened and there was no check on their aggression," he added.
"The president has been very clear about his intentions on this issue, and going to Saudi Arabia and laying out a priority of fighting Iran's aggression was significant," Kushner continued, addressing Tehran's influence in the region.
"The Saudis care a lot about the Palestinian people, they believe the Palestinian people need to have hope and opportunity, and this has been a big priority for the king and the crown prince – finding a solution to this problem," Kushner added in a nod to the involvement of Saudi Arabia, with which Israel is reported to now have burgeoning ties.
"They've been very committed to doing that. Not just the Saudis – all the countries in the region," Kushner said.
“The way that I try to define the president’s foreign policy objectives – peace and prosperity,” Kushner said. “He wants us to create as much peace and economic growth. This is very personal for him, and he sees it as integral to his values.”
Discussing reports that Trump will announce plans to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Kushner said “the president will make his decision; he's still looking at a lot of different facts. He'll make sure he does that at the right time.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also addressed the Saban Forum, via satellite, raising concerns over the threat posed by Iran.
Iran has a "ruthless commitment to terror" and a "ruthless commitment to kill Jews," much like Nazi Germany during World War II, Netanyahu said, adding that as prime minister he did not "have the luxury of discounting" threats to destroy the Jewish people, and thus he continues to speak out about Iran.