Kushner to Palestinians: Don’t let your leaders reject a plan they haven’t seen
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'I do question' whether Abbas is willing to finish a deal

Kushner to Palestinians: Don’t let your leaders reject a plan they haven’t seen

Senior White House adviser, in region ahead of peace proposal rollout, appeals to Palestinian people in effort to bypass Ramallah's boycott of administration

Jared Kushner, son-in-law and senior adviser to US President Donald Trump, speaks at the inauguration ceremony of the US Embassy in Jerusalem on May 14, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Jared Kushner, son-in-law and senior adviser to US President Donald Trump, speaks at the inauguration ceremony of the US Embassy in Jerusalem on May 14, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner appealed directly to the Palestinian people, urging them to not let their “scared” leadership reject the Trump administration peace plan, which the Palestinian Authority has yet to see. Directly critiquing Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, he said he was not sure Abbas truly wanted an accord.

In an interview with a Palestinian paper published Sunday, Kushner said he is ready to work with Abbas, but voiced doubt the 83-year-old leader has the ability or desire to make peace because he has not altered his negotiating position in over two decades.

“There have been countless mistakes and missed opportunities over the years, and you, the Palestinian people, have paid the price,” Kushner said, according to a transcript of the interview provided by the White House. “Don’t let your leadership reject a plan they haven’t even seen.”

“A lot has happened in the world since this conflict began decades ago. The world has moved forward while you have been left behind. Don’t allow your grandfather’s conflict to determine your children’s future,” he added.

The top US peace adviser was in the region ahead of the launch of a fresh peace effort. The trip, which took Kushner and US President Donald Trump’s Mideast peace envoy Jason Greenblatt to Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Egypt, did not include meetings with the Palestinian leadership.

Kushner, Greenblatt and other White House officials have been effectively blackballed by Ramallah, which was angered by Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and his decision to move the US embassy there in May.

The interview with the East Jerusalem-based Al Quds newspaper was seen as an attempt by the Trump administration to reach out to the Palestinian people, despite the official boycott.

US presidential adviser Jared Kushner, left, meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on June 21, 2017 (PA press office)

In the interview, Kushner said the Palestinians should speak to their own leaders and “give them the courage to keep an open mind” toward achieving peace.

Referring to comments by Abbas adviser Nabil Abu Rudeineh, who said Saturday that the US peace mission was a waste of time, Kushner said the Palestinian leaders fear the plan might receive popular support.

“I think the Palestinian leadership is saying those things because they are scared we will release our peace plan and the Palestinian people will actually like it because it will lead to new opportunities for them to have a much better life,” Kushner said.

“President Abbas says that he is committed to peace and I have no reason not to believe him,” he said. “However, I do question how much President Abbas has the ability to, or is willing to, lean into finishing a deal. He has his talking points which have not changed in the last 25 years. To make a deal both sides will have to take a leap and meet somewhere between their stated positions. I am not sure President Abbas has the ability to do that.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas chairs the Fatah Central Committee meeting at the Palestinian Authority headquarters, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, May 29, 2018.(Majdi Mohammed/AP)

“I greatly respect that there are many things he [Abbas] has done well for establishing the foundations of peace, but I don’t think the Palestinian people feel like their lives are getting better and there is only so long you can blame that on everyone other than Palestinian leadership,” he added.

Kushner said the international community is “getting frustrated with Palestinian leadership and not seeing many actions that are constructive towards achieving peace.”

Kushner admitted he had not tried to contact Abbas directly ahead of his Middle East tour but noted, “President Abbas knows we are in the region and we have many mutual contacts who convey messages – he knows that we are open to meeting him and continuing the discussion when he is ready. He has said publicly he will not meet us and we have opted not to chase him.”

“If President Abbas is willing to come back to the table, we are ready to engage; if he is not, we will likely air the plan publicly,” said Kushner.

Kushner suggested that Israeli and Palestinian leaders could hold a referendum on whether or not to accept the Trump peace plan as “a way for them to take less political risk on endorsing a solution, but that is still a few steps ahead of where we are now.”

Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, speaks to journalists during a press conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah on April 21, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI)

Kushner, who together with Greenblatt has reportedly been trying to raise aid funding from Gulf states for the Gaza Strip, also rejected recent criticism by senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat who on Saturday accused the Americans of trying to use the situation in Gaza to divide the Palestinians and topple the PA.

“The last I checked they are divided, they are not connected by government or land and it’s needlessly become a dire humanitarian situation because the Palestinian leadership has made it a political situation,” Kushner said. “It’s time for the Palestinian Authority and Hamas to stop using the people of Gaza as pawns. The narrative of victimhood may feel good for the moment and help you grab headlines but it doesn’t do anything to improve lives.”

Ramallah officials, who have sought to squeeze the Strip’s Hamas rulers by withholding salaries and goods as a means of retaking power there, have said plans to fund infrastructure projects to ease the humanitarian crisis in the enclave were tantamount to attempting to split Gaza from the Abbas-ruled West Bank.

“The people of Gaza are hostages to bad leadership,” Kushner said, warning that continued attacks on Israeli territory from Gaza would prevent the humanitarian situation from improving as Israel and Egypt would continue to impose their blockade aimed at prevent Hamas from smuggling in weapons.

“As long as there are rockets being fired and tunnels being dug, there will be a chokehold on resources allowed to enter. It’s a vicious cycle. I think the only path for the people of Gaza is to encourage the leadership to aim for a true ceasefire that gives Israel and Egypt the confidence to start allowing more commerce and goods to flow to Gaza,” said Kushner.

“We have said from the beginning that there is no path to peace without finding a solution for Gaza.”

Palestinian children fill jerrycans with drinking water from public taps in the southern Gaza Strip, June 11, 2017. (Abed Rahim Khatib/ Flash90)

The US earlier this year cut some $250 million to the budget of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, or UNRWA.

Despite the difficulties, Kushner said he remains hopeful the Israelis and Palestinians can overcome their past grievances.

“Yes, there is a lot of hatred and a lot of scar tissue, but I do not underestimate humankind’s ability to love. To be successful, we must be willing to forgive in the present, not forget the past, but work hard towards a brighter future.”

Peace, he predicted, would have a significant impact on the Palestinian economy.

“Israel’s prosperity would spill over very quickly to the Palestinians if there is peace. Many countries from around the world are ready to invest if there is a peace agreement,” he said.

A US official told Israel’s Channel 10 news that “the interview is part of the American administration’s attempt to address the Palestinian people directly before presenting its peace plan.”

On Saturday night, Kushner and Greenblatt met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the second time in as many days, together with US envoy to Israel David Friedman.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (2nd from right) meets at his Jerusalem office with the ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer (right); White House adviser Jared Kushner (center); US Ambassador David Friedman (second left); and special envoy Jason Greenblatt, on June 22, 2018. (Haim Zach/GPO)

The four continued discussions that had begun on Friday, which included talks on easing the humanitarian situation in Gaza and the peace plan, according to the White House.

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