Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner questions whether Palestinians can govern themselves

Mr Jared Kushner ruled out ever running for office himself and said that his father-in-law is "absolutely not" a racist.
Mr Jared Kushner ruled out ever running for office himself and said that his father-in-law is "absolutely not" a racist.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - United States President Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner said in an interview that the Palestinians aren't yet able to govern themselves, and declined to commit to an independent Palestinian state in the White House's long-awaited Mideast peace plan.

"The hope is that they over time will become capable of governing," Mr Kushner said in an interview with Axios on HBO that aired on Sunday (June 2).

Mr Kushner is leading a White House effort to draft a new peace proposal for the Israelis and Palestinians, but the effort faltered after Mr Trump announced in 2017 that he would move the US embassy to Jerusalem.

The Palestinians have said they will boycott an economic conference in Bahrain this month that Mr Kushner arranged as a first step in the peace plan.

In the interview, Mr Kushner repeatedly criticised Palestinian leaders, drawing a distinction between their drive for an independent state and what he said was the Palestinian people's desire to live in peace and prosperity. Mr Kushner is notoriously press-averse and the interview represents some of his most extensive public remarks since joining his father-in-law's administration.

"There are some things the current Palestinian government has done well, and there are some things that are lacking," Mr Kushner said. "And I do think that in order for the area to be investable, for investors to want to come in and 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."

'HIGH BAR'

He would not commit to US support for an independent Palestinian state and said there's a "high bar" for Palestinians to be free from interference in their affairs by the Israeli government and military.

 
 
 
 

"If you don't have a proper governance structure and proper security, when people are living in fear of terror, that hurts the Palestinians, it hurts the Israelis just the same," Mr Kushner said.

Mr Kushner declared that "I'm not here to be trusted" by the Palestinian leadership and blamed them for Mr Trump's decisions to cut US aid for Palestinian territories and close their diplomatic office in Washington. Mr Kushner suggested the moves were punishment for Palestinian criticism of the embassy move.

"The actions we've taken were because America's aid is not an entitlement," he said. "If we make certain decisions - which we're allowed to as a sovereign nation, to respect the rights of another sovereign nation - and we get criticised by that government, the response of this president is not to say 'Oh let me give you more aid.' That is a result of decisions taken by the Palestinian leadership."

MIDEAST TRIPS

Mr Kushner has made repeated trips to the Middle East to meet Israeli and Arab leaders, but US contact with the Palestinian leadership has all but ended. Asked how he knew what the Palestinian people want, he suggested he had spoken with Palestinian figures he didn't identify.

"We've been talking with a lot of people privately for two years now," he said. "One thing about the way I've conducted myself is not a lot of people know who I've been talking to or what I've been talking about."

The exact timing for Mr Kushner's peace plan has always been unclear, and he didn't say when it would be released in the Axios interview. The Bahrain conference "will facilitate discussions on an ambitious, achievable vision and framework for a prosperous future for the Palestinian people and the region," the White House said last month.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the plan might not "gain traction", according to the Washington Post on Sunday, citing a recording of a private meeting with Jewish leaders.

"Could be in the end, folks will say, 'It's not particularly original, it doesn't particularly work for me,' that is, 'it's got two good things and nine bad things, I'm out," Mr Pompeo said, according to the Post.

The Axios interview touched on other subjects, including US support for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman after the October killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Mr Kushner said Saudi Arabia is a long-term US ally, and "we feel like we are in a position now where there is a lot of interests that we have that are shared with them, and our goal is to pursue those interests."

He declined to say whether he's spoken with the crown prince about Mr Khashoggi's death and would not concede that he or the Saudi government was responsible.

"Look, it's a horrific thing that happened and what we've done is call for full transparency. We are working on an investigation to get to the bottom of what happened," he said.

Mr Kushner ruled out ever running for office himself and said that his father-in-law is "absolutely not" a racist. But he repeatedly declined to say whether Mr Trump's public campaign to raise suspicion about whether former President Barack Obama was born in Hawaii, known as "birtherism", was racist.

"I wasn't involved in that," Mr Kushner said.