'If we focus on old traditions, we'll never make progress'

In apparent dismissal of two-state solution, Kushner says past efforts ‘failed’

‘We’ve tried to do it a bit differently,’ Trump’s senior adviser says of imminent peace plan, which requires ‘tough compromises,’ aims to ‘make lives of Palestinians better’

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Jared Kushner participates in a panel discussion during the TIME 100 Summit 2019 on April 23, 2019 in New York City. (Brian Ach/Getty Images for TIME/AFP)
Jared Kushner participates in a panel discussion during the TIME 100 Summit 2019 on April 23, 2019 in New York City. (Brian Ach/Getty Images for TIME/AFP)

In a clear indication that the Trump administration’s peace plan will depart from the two-state solution as a framework for a permanent Israeli-Palestinian accord, senior White House adviser Jared Kushner said on Tuesday peace efforts by previous administrations had “failed” and that the new proposal would be different.

Interviewed live at a Time magazine conference in New York, US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law said, “We’ve taken what I think is an unconventional approach. We’ve studied the past efforts and how they failed and why they failed… We’ve tried to do it a bit differently.”

Asked twice if the peace plan would provide for a two-state solution, Kushner did not directly answer. Instead, he said: “We have not said today… We’re going to lay that out very clearly… If people focus on the old traditional talking points, we’re never going to make progress.”

Kushner cited as a “good attempt” the Arab Peace Initiative adopted by 22 Arab states in 2002. “But if that would’ve worked, we would’ve made peace a long time ago on that basis.”

US President Donald Trump (right) meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in the Oval Office of the White House, March 5, 2018, in Washington. (AP/Evan Vucci)

The Arab Peace Initiative calls on Israel to agree to a two-state solution along the 1967 lines and an unspecified “just” solution to the Palestinian refugee issue, in exchange for Arab nations subsequently normalizing relations with Israel and declaring the Arab-Israeli conflict over.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has indicated that he does not want to work within the framework of the Arab Peace Initiative, but is instead seeking to warm ties with Arab states even if no substantive diplomatic progress is possible with the Palestinians. He also vowed in the run-up to the April 9 elections that he would gradually apply Israeli sovereignty to all West Bank settlements — where 400,000 Israeli Jews live — and hoped to be able to do so with US agreement. Such a move would render a contiguous Palestinian state unfeasible.

Kushner said the Trump peace plan is going to be centered around the “bottom-up” model — “which is how do you make the lives of the Palestinian people better.”

He explained that efforts by previous American administrations began with a process that was designed to lead to a resolution. The Trump White House, to the contrary, “started with a proposed solution and then we’ll work on a process to try and get there.”

The senior White House adviser said that the plan would take Israel’s security concerns into account while “deal[ing] with all the core status issues.” He added that it would also include “a robust business plan for the whole region, and I think that with the two together you have the opportunity to push forward.”

Kushner reiterated several comments he and other Trump officials have made regarding the plan in recent weeks. He said that “there will be tough compromises for both [sides],” and that the plan will be rolled out after the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which ends in the beginning of June.

US President Donald Trump reaches to shake Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s hand before a meeting at the Palace Hotel during the 72nd United Nations General Assembly on September 20, 2017, in New York. (AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski)

“I hope that when they look at our proposal — I’m not saying they’re going to… say ‘this is perfect and let’s go forward,’ I’m hopeful that what they’ll do is say ‘there are some compromises here, but at the end of the day this is really a framework to allow our lives [to get] materially better,'” Kushner said. “We’ll see if the leadership on both sides has the courage to take the leap to try and go forward.”

The interview appeared largely in line with remarks made by a senior Trump official last week, quoted by Sky News Arabic, that it was not helpful to use the term “two-state solution” because each side understood it differently.

Days earlier, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh responded to a tweet from Trump Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt on the Trump peace plan, saying “any political initiative that does not call for ending Israeli occupation and establishing an independent and sovereign Palestinian State with Jerusalem as its capital on the borders of 1967 with settling the refugees cause is not acceptable to the Palestinians.”

With the Trump team keeping the details of the plan close to their chests (and with one report indicating that even Trump has not seen the entire plan) rumors of its content have swirled, particularly on social media.

The Washington Post and Guardian reported last week that the plan would likely not include full Palestinian statehood — an assertion that Trump officials have not denied.

That is a likely deal-breaker for Palestinians, who have been boycotting Trump’s Middle East team following the US president’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017 and moving of the US embassy there in May 2018.

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