WASHINGTON — In a private, off-the-record conversation with congressional interns on Monday, Jared Kushner said he was not sure the Trump administration could offer anything “unique” to solve the Israeli Palestinian conflict and praised Israel’s handling of a recent crisis over the Temple Mount.
The discussion was recorded by one of the interns present and subsequently leaked to Wired, which published Kushner’s entire answer to a question about the White House’s attempts to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord, which US President Donald Trump has repeatedly referred to as the “ultimate deal.”
“What do we offer that’s unique? I don’t know,” he said. “I’m sure everyone that’s tried this has been unique in some ways, but again we’re trying to follow very logically. We’re thinking about what the right end state is. And we’re trying to work with the parties very quietly to see if there’s a solution.”
“And,” he went on, “there may be no solution, but it’s one of the problem sets that the president asked us to focus on. So we’re going to focus on it and try to come to the right conclusion in the near future.”
Kushner, a real estate scion who was made a senior adviser to the president — his father-in-law — has been tasked with spearheading the administration’s efforts to negotiate peace.
He discussed the process by which he has been trying to make progress, which he said entailed exploring both conventional and unconventional methods.
“This is one of the ones I was asked to take on, and I did with this something that I do with every problem set you get, which is you try to study the historical context to understand how something got to where it is, who was successful, and who wasn’t successful,” Kushner said. “And you … research it and look at the conventional sources but also try to get some unconventional sources as well.”
“What I’ve determined from looking at it is that not a whole lot has been accomplished over the last 40 or 50 years we’ve been doing this,” he added.
That assessment seemed to bother some former Middle East peace negotiators, including Aaron David Miller, who noted on Twitter Israel’s peace treaties with Egypt (1978) and Jordan (1994).
Kushner on peace: "not a whole lot's been accomplished over last 40/50 yrs" Peace treaties with Israel/Egypt/Jordan?https://t.co/UYG98W4Nkv
— Aaron David Miller (@aarondmiller2) August 1, 2017
One of the complicating factors, Kushner said, was how much emotional baggage is embedded in the conflict.
“I have tried to look at why people haven’t been successful in the negotiations, so I looked and studied all the different negotiations,” he said. “I spoke to a lot of people who have have been part of them, and I think the reason why is that this is a very emotionally charged situation.”
‘What do we offer that’s unique? I don’t know’
Kushner has learned that first-hand over the last several weeks. After a crisis erupted in Jerusalem surrounding the Temple Mount, Kushner led the administration’s efforts to calm the crisis, although it was Special Envoy for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt who was dispatched to the region.
“Look at what happened this past 10 days — a lot of seemingly logical measures taken on the different [unintelligible] part somehow became a little bit incendiary,” he said. “But we were able to calm it down by having a lot of really great dialogue between Jordan and the Palestinian Authority and the Israelis.”
After a July 14 terror attack in which three Arab Israelis shot dead two Israeli police officers with weapons they had smuggled onto the site, Israel installed new security measures, including metal detectors and cameras, which set off near-daily clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces in and around the Old City, East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
It also triggered a boycott by Muslim worshipers who threatened not to return to the site until all the installations were removed.
Five Palestinians died in clashes and a Palestinian terrorist killed three members of a family sitting down to Shabbat dinner in the West Bank settlement of Halamish.
A diplomatic dispute also erupted between Israel and Jordan after the killing of two Jordanians by an Israeli security guard near the Israeli embassy in Amman, including a teenager who had stabbed the security officer in what the Foreign Ministry suspects was a nationalistically motivated attack.
Kushner said this flare-up showed how “combustible” the conflict was, while he also went on to defend actions Israel took after the attack, saying Israel’s security measures were “not an irrational thing to do.”
“They say look, you know, this is a change to the status quo. The Temple Mount is a [unintelligible] occupation of Israel, and Israel was saying we don’t want anything to do with that, we just want to make sure people are safe,” he said. “And that really incited a lot of tension in the streets.”
He lamented the way Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s actions were being received by the Israeli press. “Bibi was getting beaten up by the press in Israel, because that was very politically unpopular for him to do,” he said, describing the Israeli premier’s decision to remove the security measures. Kushner is an old family friend of Netanyahu’s.
“Ultimately, we were able to work with them, and we were able to get the Israelis to take down the different forms of surveillance that the Jordanians were okay with, and we talked with the Palestinians the whole time to try to get their viewpoint on it,” he added.
King Abdullah II of Jordan, for his part, thanked Trump last week for the US role in mediating a resolution to the crisis.
Despite saying he wasn’t sure the US could offer anything “unique” to the parties, Kushner said he was “hopeful” about his efforts to reach a deal. One of the reasons were the lack of leaks that had been coming out of this portfolio, something he said was essential for building trust.
“If you’ve noticed about this conflict, and [unintelligible] nothing’s leaked out … which I think gives the parties more trust, and more ability to really express and share their viewpoints.”
“I think you need to be able to probe people in private for them to have the confidence that it’s not going to be used against them, and that it’s not going to leak out in the press, which would be very, very hurtful,” he said. “That’s been a big advantage, which has allowed us to really have a lot of very interesting conversations.”