Kushner previews 'in-depth operational document' for Middle East peace, says Trump 'will be proud'
Posted May 3, 2019 3:48 p.m. EDT
CNN — Jared Kushner did not unveil the administration's plan for Middle East peace during a discussion Thursday evening titled "Inside the Trump Administration's Middle East Peace Effort: A Conversation With Jared Kushner."
He did, however, offer vague details on what the plan will entail during the 45-minute conversation at the Washington Institute, calling it an "in-depth operational document" that is "realistic, executable... and will lead to both sides being much better off."
"We've put together, I would say, more of an in-depth operational document that shows what we think is possible, how people can live together, how security can work, how interaction can work, and really, how you try to form the outline of what a brighter future can be," President Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser said Thursday, detailing his team's assessment phase and adding that they have also created a "business plan" outlining their economic vision for the region.
'One of the hardest problems'
He conceded that Middle East peace is "probably one of the hardest problems that maybe exists in the world," but projected optimism about that operational document, saying, "If people look at it with a fresh perspective, I think there will be a lot of opportunity to start a new discussion and hopefully that leads to a breakthrough."
The plan is widely expected to concentrate on Palestinian economic development instead of political aspirations. Trump administration officials have avoided referring to a "two-state solution" when discussing the long-awaited plan, saying instead that they were abandoning "old" ideas.
"I think that the vision that we'll lay out is going to represent a significant change from the model that's been used," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told CNN's Jake Tapper on April 12. "Our idea is to put forward a vision that has ideas that are new, that are different, that are unique, that tries to reframe and reshape what's been an intractable problem that multiple administrations have grappled with, multiple administrations in Israel as well."
One senior diplomatic source from a US ally familiar with discussions about the plan told CNN that the Kushner plan isn't likely to be extensive.
'Don't expect' two states
"Don't expect a two-state solution," this source said. "Expect a chance for Palestinians to get outside investment if they go along with it."
The administration feels now is the time for the Arab world to be tacitly on board with a "take it or leave it" approach to the Palestinians, the source said. In this scenario, the Palestinians won't necessarily get the capital in East Jerusalem that they have long sought or the kind of specific division of the city that had been discussed in negotiations involving different US administrations.
"This is going to be an economic-centered plan, with the political element left pretty open-ended — as in, the details and boundaries left to the parties to negotiate," the source said, describing a plan that will consist of "broad strokes, and suggestions to work out differences at the negotiating table."
The diplomatic source added that the Israelis also expect that they will have to make some concessions -- it's just not yet clear what those concessions will be. The expectation is, it will be settlements. However, this is all still murky, according to the source.
After Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won reelection in April, Kushner reportedly told diplomats to expect its release in early June, once the Muslim month of Ramadan was over and the new Israeli government was in place.
$30 to $40 billion
A second source from a US ally familiar with the discussions, who confirmed the emphasis on economics and the absence of a two-state element, said that the plan now looks set to be unveiled in mid- to late- June. It will meet all of Israel's security requirements, this source said, including an Israeli security presence in Palestinian areas, which would be demilitarized with the exception of the police force; a right to intervene in those areas; and control over the borders of Palestinian areas.
In exchange, Palestinians would get "at least 30 to 40 billion dollars initially, mostly Arab money but some from US as well," this source said.
"If the Palestinians reject it, which they well might," this source said, the US will "expect Arabs to be mostly silent."
One option, this source said, is to just let the plan fail, which would allow the US to say they had no negotiating partner in the Palestinians. The thinking here, this second source said, is tied to US domestic politics. If Palestinians reject the plan, Netanyahu could follow up on the US declaration of Israeli control over the Golan Heights and "annex even more" land, likely in the West Bank.
"The win for Trump is then a Jewish vote even greater than 25 percent in 2020," the second source said.
US domestic politics
The first source also acknowledged the domestic political calculus at work, saying that if Kushner's plan is not presented within the next few weeks, there is a possibility it won't be brought forward at all as there is a reluctance to work on the issue in the middle of the presidential campaign.
Kushner is working on the initiative with a team that includes Jason Greenblatt, formerly a lawyer for the Trump Organization who is now an adviser on Israel, David Friedman, the US ambassador to Israel, and Avi Berkowitz, an assistant to Kushner. Kushner said that Trump wants the group to "really try to solve this" in a lasting way. Asked why now, he said, "I don't think there's ever a perfect time to do this," but they think "now is a good time to put something out there." He said that recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel made his job "harder," but will help a peace agreement in the long term.
Kushner didn't offer specifics on the plan or its rollout.
"I do think that all of our allies and partners will be very well-consulted, and I do think that hopefully we're putting people in the position to make sure they can be as supportive as possible," he said. "The people who need to know, know about it."
Trump has been "very involved" in the process, Kushner said of his father-in-law, adding, "He's involved with the details... he's read a lot of parts of it... he hasn't read the latest draft."
He added that "when you work for a President, you try hard not to disappoint, but you can disappoint. When you work for your father-in-law, you can't disappoint."
Kushner continued, "I think I've established a good track record now on all the different tasks he's given me. I've come back with results and I've come back with good advice and I do think that this is something that I do think he'll be proud of, this is something that I think will be a document that I think will be elevating the discussion of an issue that's hard."
Pressed on whether there would be substantial funding from the US, Kushner wouldn't say, but went on to describe the "leaky environment" in the Trump administration.
"One thing that I'm very proud of that we've accomplished in two years is we've been able to keep this very close. We've had a leaky environment here in Washington where a lot of things leak, but nothing's leaked from my team and nothing's leaked on this file, and that's something that we're very proud of and that's built a lot of trust with a lot of our counterparts," he said.
Kushner was asked about Israeli annexation threats in the West Bank, and said he had not discussed it with Netanyahu, adding, "I hope both sides will take a good look at it before any unilateral steps are made."
He inadvertently referred to Israel and Palestine as "two countries" at one point.
"We're not in the rabbit-chasing business... Our job is to find a solution between the two countries," he said, comparing the tension in the West Bank to "symptoms of a disease" and his plan "something that will cure the disease."
Kushner also placed some blame on Iran for instability in Yemen, saying, "The Yemen issue, I think is more of an offshoot of the Iran issue so I kind of put that in that same box cause that's really the root cause of what's happening there with the instability."