Kushner doubles down on criticism of Palestinian leadership, but reaches out to President Abbas

Posted at 3:49 PM, Jul 03, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-03 17:49:00-04

President Donald Trump’s senior adviser Jared Kushneroffered a mix of praise and contempt for the Palestinians on Wednesday as he teased ahead to the next steps in his peace plan, saying they’d “probably” be revealed “next week.”

Speaking on a conference call with reporters a week after hosting a self-styled economic workshop in Bahrain aimed at discussing ways of boosting the Palestinian economy in the event of a peace deal with Israel, Kushner said the decision of Palestinian leadership to boycott the meeting had been “hysterical and erratic and not terribly constructive.”

“The Palestinian leadership has made a strategic mistake by not engaging on this; they look very foolish for trying to fight against this,” he said.

But asked to speak specifically about Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, he was altogether more conciliatory.

“I have a lot of respect for President Abbas,” he said. “He has devoted his life to trying to make peace.”

And Kushner seemed to suggest those sentiments were shared by his father-in-law.

“President Trump is very fond of President Abbas. He likes him very much personally.”

“Our door is always open to the Palestinian leadership,” he added.

Abbas had four meetings with Trump over a six-month period in 2017 before breaking off relations when the US recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel at the end of that year.

The Palestinian Authority President told a meeting of the Foreign Press Association in Ramallah immediately prior to the Bahrain workshop that he would reengage only if the US reversed its Jerusalem decision and recommitted to a two-state solution to the conflict.

Next steps next week

The call to reporters was the latest in a series of interviews and briefings the White House Middle East team has given in recent weeks as it seeks to keep up the momentum behind its much-hyped peace plan.

All the questions put to Kushner in the 30-minute session were from journalists representing Arab news outlets, suggesting a targeted effort to reach a key regional audience.

The team has said on previous occasions that it wants to reach out directly to the Palestinian people and not go through its leaders.

Kushner told reporters the next steps in the process would likely be made public next week, but he did not seem to indicate this would include unveiling the political side of the initiative.

“We will be announcing probably next week what our next steps will be and we will keep pushing forward. We want to take the feedback on the economic plan, incorporate it, finalize it.”

CNN has previously reported that the White House peace team plans to form working groups and later reconvene participants to its economic conference in Bahrain in the coming months to agree to an economic framework.

The peace team has made clear it hopes to receive feedback on its $50 billion plan to revitalize the Palestinian economy.

Fate of Palestinian refugees

Even though there were no new details of the political side of the proposal, Kushner did address the fate of Palestinian refugees, long seen as one of the thorniest issues in the conflict.

Palestinians insist that all those who fled or were driven from their homes in what became Israel in 1948 should have a right to return, as should their descendants.

Israel has repeatedly rejected that claim, increasingly arguing that refugees should be naturalized in those countries where they now live.

Asked by a Lebanese reporter how the White House plan would tackle this issue, Kushner chose not to give a direct answer.

But he did draw a distinction between what he said happened to Jewish refugees and what happened to Palestinian refugees in the turbulent period surrounding Israel’s founding.

Jewish refugees from various Middle East countries had been “absorbed by different places,” he said, while the “Arab world had not absorbed a lot of these (Palestinian) refugees over time.”

“When we put out a political solution, we are going to try to put forward the best proposed solutions that we think are pragmatic, achievable and viable in this day and age.”

“People in Lebanon would love to see a resolution to (the refugee) issue that is fair,” he said, adding that Palestinian refugees in Lebanon would like to see a “pathway for them to have more rights and live a better life.”

It’s not thought that the political details will be unveiled before November, giving time for Israel to hold its general election in September and for subsequent discussions about the formation of a new coalition government to take place.

Speaking Tuesday alongside another member of the White House Middle East team, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was “going to keep an open mind” about the peace initiative.