Kushner, architect of Trump’s Middle East peace plan, says he’s not courting Palestinian trust

The comments came in an interview aired after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo admitted the plan might be "unexecutable."

This handout picture provided by the US Embassy in Jerusalem, shows Israeli Prime Minister Banjamin Netanyahu shaking hands with Jared Kushner on May 30, 2019. CREDIT: MATTY STERN/AFP/Getty Images.
This handout picture provided by the US Embassy in Jerusalem, shows Israeli Prime Minister Banjamin Netanyahu shaking hands with Jared Kushner on May 30, 2019. CREDIT: MATTY STERN/AFP/Getty Images.

In a new two-part interview with Axios on HBO that aired on Sunday, Jared Kushner admitted that he doesn’t trust and is not trusted by Palestinians — the very people whose land and lives he’s aiming to change with his yet-to-be-unveiled Middle East peace plan.

When asked if he could see why Palestinians don’t trust him, President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, replied, “Um, uh look, I’m not here to be trusted.”

Axios’ Jonathan Swan pushed back that, in fact, Kushner’s role should be one of a trusted broker, given his background in funding Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the administration’s past actions on Israel and Palestine.

“You’ve got three Orthodox Jews on the negotiating team. Two of you have at different points funded settlements; Jewish settlements in the West Bank,” Swan said. “You’ve got the actions you’ve taken so far, moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. You’ve cut all aid to the Palestinians, including hospitals in East Jerusalem. And you’ve shut down the Palestinian diplomatic office in Washington. I mean, can you not see why they might not want to talk to you and that they might not trust you?”

To that, Kushner shrugged that people don’t judge situations on whether they trust him, but on whether their lives are getting better.

Kushner also said that he doesn’t trust that Palestinians are capable of governing themselves.

“Do you believe that the Palestinians are capable of governing themselves without Israeli interference?” Swan asked.

“I think that’s a very good question,” Kushner replied. “I think that’s one that we’ll have to see. The hope is, is that they, over time, can become capable of governing.”

Kushner repeatedly made a distinction between Palestinians, as people, and Palestine, as a state, saying that what people want is an opportunity rather than a state. But, as the interviewer pointed out, Kushner is “not exactly walking on the streets of Ramallah every day.”

Palestinians have already rejected Kushner’s plan, saying the deal is “born dead.”

The rest of the interview is equally awkward, with Kushner refusing to answer whether Trump’s repeated questioning of former President Barack Obama’s citizenship status was racist. (“Uh, like I said I was not involved in that. That was a long time ago,” Kushner said.)

He also tried to skirt the question of whether the United States will ever hold Saudi Arabia accountable for the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. He claimed that once Saudi is done investigating itself and presents those findings to Trump, the president will decide “what he wants to do.”

He also glossed over Saudi Arabia’s robust track record of human rights violations, dismissing them as things the U.S. discusses with the Gulf kingdom “privately,” but spent considerable time hammering the Palestinian authorities for their shortcomings. “…Uh you do need to have a fair judicial system,” he said. “You need to have freedom of press, freedom of expression, tolerance for all religions.”

The interview aired on the tails of a Sunday report by The Washington Post about a talk Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave at a private meeting at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Pompeo, who made the remarks on Tuesday, said Kushner’s Middle East peace plan might not “gain traction,” might be “unexecutable,” and “could be rejected.”

He did not want to call the plan a failure, though, “Call it whatever,” said Pompeo.

While saying he hoped people would at least show up to the upcoming meeting in Bahrain to “just give the space to listen and let it settle in a little bit,” Pompeo also admitted that the plan is very late.

“This has taken us longer to roll out our plan than I had originally thought it might — to put it lightly,” said Pompeo.

The plan was supposed to be presented first at the UN General Assembly in New York in September 2018, then within four months after that (January 2019 at the latest), then  “early 2019,” but before Israeli elections, before pushing it to after the Israeli elections in April, and then after the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which ends this week.

But with fresh Israeli elections to be held in September after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a coalition government, it’s unclear how the planned June 25-26 workshop in Bahrain will progress.

The New York Times reported that the full plan might not be rolled out until after the September Israeli elections, making it late by a full year.

It’s in Bahrain that the U.S. negotiators, including Kushner, will unveil the economic portion of the plan, which so far, seems to lack a political dimension. Critics of the plan have stated that without a political solution that paves the way for Palestinian sovereignty — a thing Kushner called “a high bar” in the Axios interview — the plan won’t have much purchase in the region.

In recent weeks, Trump administration officials including Kushner, have been flying around the Middle East to rally support for the plan. Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, the president’s special representative for international negotiations, along with Brian Hook, the special envoy for Iran, have gone to Israel, Morocco, Jordan, and Israel.