Jun 2, 2019 - World

Exclusive: Kushner uncertain Palestinians are capable of governing themselves

Jared Kushner with Netanyahu

Jared Kushner and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO via Getty Images

Jared Kushner — architect of the White House's Middle East plan, part of which is due for release at the end of June — casts doubt on the ability of Palestinians to govern themselves.

Driving the news: Asked in an interview on "Axios on HBO" whether he believes the Palestinians are capable of governing themselves without Israeli interference — a fundamental demand for Palestinians — Kushner said, "That's a very good question. ... The hope is, is that over time, they can become capable of governing."

  • Kushner said the Palestinians "need to have a fair judicial system ... freedom of press, freedom of expression, tolerance for all religions" before the Palestinian territories can become "investable."
  • Asked whether the Palestinians could expect freedom from any Israeli governmental or military interference, Kushner said, "I think that it's a high bar. ... If you don't have a proper government structure and proper security when people are living in fear of terror, that hurts Palestinians."
  • Between the lines: Axios contributor Barak Ravid writes: "When he says 'it's a high bar' — I think that partially what he means is that even if there is a Palestinian state, the Israeli army would still have some responsibility for security."

Why it matters: Kushner, who represents a president whose actions have so far been all-in for Israel, in the interview seems to want to drive a wedge between the Palestinian people and their leadership and in so doing may make the sales pitch for his future plan even harder.

  • The Palestinian leaders have already announced they're boycotting the Trump administration's economic summit later this month in Bahrain, even as other Arab countries who support the Palestinians have said they'll attend.

Yes, but: Kushner also said in the interview that he believes the Palestinians "should have self-determination." Barak told me he takes this as a signal that the White House plans to propose a two-state solution. Barak said it's the first time Kushner has said so this clearly.

  • However, the phrase "self-determination" is slippery. Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro told me that while "self-determination" usually connotes statehood, it could also mean "a level of limited autonomy that is little more than the Palestinians have right now — disconnected islands surrounded by overall Israeli control (and annexed settlements)."
  • "There aren't going to be any Palestinians who will endorse that definition of self-determination, and few others who matter elsewhere" would do so either, Shapiro said.

Context: I interviewed Kushner before his trip to Jerusalem ahead of the formation of a new Netanyahu government. But he arrived in Israel to discover that Netanyahu couldn't form a coalition and to news that Israel will have another election. This will further complicate the rollout of Kushner's peace plan.

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