Envoy says Israel not cause of all Palestinian suffering

Kushner urges PM, Gantz to unite to seize ‘tremendous opportunities’ in region

Trump adviser tells Israeli TV that Washington is eager to advance peace plan, believes PA will be ‘rational’; reassures Israel of US backing after ditching of Kurdish allies

US presidential adviser Jared Kushner speaks to Channel 13 news, October 29, 2019 (Channel 12 screenshot)
US presidential adviser Jared Kushner speaks to Channel 13 news, October 29, 2019 (Channel 12 screenshot)

US presidential adviser Jared Kushner urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz in separate meetings to work together to form a unity government in order to seize the “tremendous opportunities” in the region, he said in an interview that aired Tuesday.

Speaking to Channel 13, Kushner said he thought both Netanyahu and Gantz want to “move forward” and put an end to the political deadlock plaguing the country after the inconclusive September elections, the second national vote in a year.

“The message that I was bringing was one that right now in the region there really are tremendous opportunities that we’ve accomplished over the past couple years, but even more that we can be seizing together, so it would be great for Israel to figure out how to form a government so we can start working on all the big priorities and opportunities that exist,” said Kushner.

Kushner, who met with Gantz for the first time in an official capacity on Monday, called the Blue and White chairman, a former IDF chief of staff, a “great general” and said “he seems to have a good intention to try and bring good for Israel,” but seemed to discount the possibility of any government that did not include Netanyahu.

“Hopefully he’ll be able to work with Prime Minister Netanyahu and find a way to move forward.”

The meeting on Monday was the first between Blue and White’s leadership and senior US officials, and came days after Gantz was tasked by President Reuven Rivlin with forming a government after Netanyahu failed to put one together after the September elections.

From left to right: Blue and White Party MK Yair Lapid, party leader Benny Gantz, Special Adviser to the US President Jared Kushner, and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman during a meeting at the US Embassy in Jerusalem, October 28, 2019. (Jeries Mansour, US Embassy Jerusalem)

Kushner, who is the son-in-law of US President Donald Trump, said the administration was eager to see a government formed in Israel to allow it to finally present its long-delayed peace plan. “We have a real desire to put the plan that we’ve been working on. We have a lot of ideas and we want to put these ideas down,” he said.

Kusher also downplayed the nadir in ties between Washington and the Palestinian Authority, which has boycotted the administration since Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017 and later cut Palestinian aid.

“I wouldn’t call it a crisis, I mean, America’s doing just fine. We’re willing to engage with the Palestinians but we’re not willing to do it in a way where America’s disrespected and we’re not wanting to do it in a way where we’re making bad investments,” said Kushner.

He asserted that the Palestinian rejection of US efforts was mostly posturing.

“At the end of the day I believe people will be rational actors,” he said.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas gestures, during a meeting at the presidential compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah on October 6, 2019. (Abbas Momani/AFP)

Kushner was asked about the sudden US decision earlier this month to withdraw forces from northern Syria and abandon America’s Kurdish allies in the face of a Turkish onslaught — and whether Israelis should be worried about US commitment to the nations’ alliance.

“Anyone in Israel who thinks that [the situation in Syria] has any implications for the US-Israel relationship is badly mistaken,” Kushner said. “Under President Trump the bond between America and Israel has been significantly strengthened and our intention is to continue to do more of the same.”

Speaking at the Future Investment Initiative conference in the Saudi capital Riyadh Tuesday evening, Kushner added that “Israel is not the cause of all the suffering of the Palestinian people.”

“If you want to go and invest in the West Bank or Gaza, the issue that’s holding you back is the fear of terrorism and that your investment could be destroyed,” he said.

Kushner unveiled the economic aspects of a US Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative in June with a conference in Bahrain, in which he dangled $50 billion in investment for the region if the Palestinians agree on a political deal.

The Palestinian leadership boycotted the conference, accusing the administration of ignoring key issues and trying to buy its acceptance of Israeli rule.

US President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, right, meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, on June 22, 2018. (Matty Stern/US Embassy Jerusalem/Flash90)

The PA has been in deep financial crisis since February when Israel froze transfers of VAT and customs duties it collects on the Palestinians’ behalf, due to its handouts to prisoners convicted of terrorism as well as the families of dead terrorists.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s administration had to impose austerity measures, cutting almost half the salaries of its employees.

Other clips in the Channel 13 interview focused on more lighthearted matters, like Trump joining his daughter and son-in-law for the Jewish kiddush (or blessing of the wine on holy days), and Kushner being shunted to the basement as a kid when Netanyahu, long a friend of his family, came to visit.

Channel 13 interviewer Barak Ravid is also a reporter for Axios. In an excerpt posted there, Kushner went after former vice president Joe Biden — now a top contender for the Democratic nomination in the 2020 presidential election — saying much of his job was to “clean up the messes” the ex-VP left behind.

“We inherited an ISIS caliphate, Iran was strong, Libya was a mess and a lot of our allies felt abandoned. We worked very hard over the last three years to try and rebuild the Middle East and to put it in a much more stable framing,” he said.

Biden earlier this week had questioned Kushner’s credentials to draft a Middle East peace plan and pledged that if elected he would not give political appointments to his children.

Democratic presidential candidate and former vice president Joe Biden speaks at a campaign event in Rochester, New Hampshire, October 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Kusher also said that the Trump administration enacted key criminal justice reform and “rolled back a lot of the very harsh laws that were created and partially written by Biden over 20 years ago, which put a lot of African Americans in prison and really destroyed a generation and did a lot of harm to our country.”

Trump’s focus on discrediting Biden and his apparent desire to dig up dirt on the candidate — particularly through pressuring ally Ukraine — is at the heart of an impeachment investigation currently being led by Congressional Democrats.

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