Reaching out to Palestinians, Kushner says he’s willing to work with Abbas

White House adviser, in region ahead of peace plan rollout, makes appeal to Palestinian newspaper in effort to bypass Ramallah’s boycott of administration

Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner, left, meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on August 24, 2017. (courtesy, WAFA)
Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner, left, meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on August 24, 2017. (courtesy, WAFA)

Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner said he is ready to work Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in an interview published Sunday, as the top peace envoy toured the region ahead of the launch of a fresh peace effort.

The trip, which is taking Kushner and US president Donald Trump’s Mideast peace envoy Jason Greenblatt to Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Egypt, does not include meetings with the Palestinian leadership.

Kushner told the East Jerusalem based Al Quds newspaper that he is “ready to work with [Palestinian Authority] President Abbas, if he wishes” according to a translation of the Arabic carried by Reuters.

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

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

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.

The interview with al-Quds, which was being published on Sunday, was seen as an attempt by the Trump administration to reach out to the Palestinian people, despite the official boycott.

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

“You deserve to have a bright future, now is the time for both the Israelis and Palestinians to strengthen their leaderships and re-focus them to encourage them to open up toward a solution, and not fear trying,” Kushner said, according to Reuters.

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. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Earlier Saturday, Erekat accused the US peace team of working to topple the Palestinian Authority, as the American envoys wrapped up a visit to the region aimed to push the Trump administration’s peace plan and enlist humanitarian aid for the Gaza Strip.

Erekat claimed that during the meeting with Kushner and Greenblatt, Netanyahu said he was prepared to help address the humanitarian situation in Gaza with the tax revenues Israel collects on behalf of the PA.

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 as a means of easing the humanitarian crisis there is tantamount to attempting to split Gaza from the Abbas-ruled West Bank.

“The goal behind this is to sustain the coup [by which Hamas seized Gaza from Abbas in 2007] and keep Gaza separated from the West Bank on the way to creating a mini-state in Gaza while bringing down the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank,” Erekat told Voice of Palestine radio, according to the PA’s official Wafa news agency.

Top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat speaks at the Haaretz and New Israel Fund conference in New York City, on December 13, 2015. (Amir Levy/Flash90)

Erekat alleged the US is working to remove Abbas and overthrow the PA, pointing to an article by Greenblatt earlier this month appearing to call for Erekat’s ouster. Greenblatt had accused Erekat of exacerbating the conflict and impeding progress toward peace after the latter attacked Washington over its peacemaking role.

He also said Kushner and Greenblatt are seeking the “termination” of the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency, in the wake of their alleged belief Jerusalem is no longer an issue after Trump recognized the city as Israel’s capital.

He added: “All this is actually aimed at liquidating the issue of the Palestinian refugees.”

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

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