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Kushner says Palestinians “should have self-determination” but won’t commit to 2 states

Trump advisor Jared Kushner still hasn’t unveiled his Middle East peace plan, but an interview with Axios leaves even more questions.

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Jared Kushner in April 2019.
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Jen Kirby is a senior foreign and national security reporter at Vox, where she covers global instability.

Palestinians “should have self-determination,” White House senior adviser and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner said during an interview with Axios that aired Sunday on HBO. But Kushner would not go into details about what he meant, and he did not explicitly endorse a two-state solution when it came to a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians.

When pressed by Axios’s Jonathan Swan on whether that meant sovereignty, Kushner replied: “Well, we’re talking about the people, not about the actual technical terms.”

Kushner’s comments about his still-secret Middle East peace plan came in a wide-ranging interview in which Swan pressed Kushner on topics from Russia interference to Kushner’s business dealings to refugee resettlement.

The interview included questions about Kushner’s perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, especially as the Trump administration is expected to unveil a portion of the peace plan at a conference in Bahrain at the end of June.

When Swan asked Kushner whether he believed Palestinians were capable of self-governing without interference from Israel, Kushner didn’t answer the question directly, and seemed to make the end goal about foreign investment.

Here’s the full exchange:

JONATHAN SWAN: I understand. Do you believe that the Palestinians are capable of governing themselves without Israeli interference?

JARED KUSHNER: I think that’s a very good question. I think that’s one that we’ll have to see. The hope is, is that they over time can become capable of governing.

JONATHAN SWAN: They being, the Palestinian Authority?

JARED KUSHNER: The Palestinians. I think that there are some things that the current Palestinian government has done well and there’s some things that are lacking. And I do think that in order for the area to be investable, for investors to come in and want to invest in different industry and infrastructure and create jobs, you do need to have a fair judicial system. You need to have freedom of press, freedom of expression, tolerance for all religions. And so…

This is in keeping with what little we know about the Trump administration’s peace plan. That conference in Bahrain — which the Palestinian Authority has said it will not attend — will promote the “economic portion” of the peace plan, according to the Guardian, and will promote investment in the Palestinian territories.

When Swan pressed Kushner about whether Palestinians could have freedom from Israeli government or military interference, Kushner called it a “high bar.” In a follow-up, Kushner declined to say whether Palestinians should have their own independent state with a capital in East Jerusalem.

“There’s a difference between the technocrats and there’s a difference between the people. The technocrats are focused on very technocratic things and when I speak to Palestinian people, what they want is they want the opportunity to live a better life,” Kushner replied. “They want the opportunity to pay their mortgage.”

Doubts remain about Kushner’s efforts to create a peace plan

Kushner’s inability to explicitly say whether his long-awaited peace plan includes a two-state solution — the position past US administrations, both Republican and Democratic, have advocated — will do little to undo the perception, particularly among Palestinian leaders, that Kushner’s plan is biased in favor of Israel.

That perception stems from the Trump administration’s stalwart support for Israel, which it has demonstrated with rhetoric and with a series of controversial policy moves — including moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, and cutting funding for the UN agency that supports Palestinian refugees — that have undercut Palestinian interests.

Kushner dismissed the notion that the Trump administration’s actions had led to distrust between him and the Palestinians, saying he was “not here to be trusted” — although trust seems like a pretty vital component of getting buy-in for any peace deal.

Of course, it’s still a question when (and even if) the rest of the world will ever see Kushner’s peace deal. According to a recording obtained by the Washington Post and revealed Sunday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo candidly told Jewish leaders at a closed-door meeting that the plan might be seen as “unexecutable.”

“I get why people think this is going to be a deal that only the Israelis could love,” Pompeo said. “I understand the perception of that. I hope everyone will just give the space to listen and let it settle in a little bit.”

And Israel’s own political chaos could potentially derail Kushner’s peace deal. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a coalition government despite his election victory, leading to new elections in September.

That unexpected turn of events could delay the plan even further, and might put pressure on the Trump administration to make the plan even more favorable to Netanyahu as part of his do-over bid to secure another term as prime minister — which makes it all the more likely that the Palestinians will reject it out of hand.