MANAMA, Bahrain – It is easy to be against things, and much more difficult to state what you are for, and then detail it, US top official Jared Kushner said to his critics on Wednesday at the end of the “Peace to Prosperity” workshop here.
“When people criticize, the question I would ask them is what is your idea, what ideas are you putting forward,” he told reporters in a briefing after a day of sessions devoted to how to invest in the Palestinian territories and in the region.
“It is easy to be against things, but that is not going to help the Palestinian people, it is not going to help the region,” Kushner said. “But what we’ve tried to do is take the harder task of being for something. And we’ve put out 140 pages of details.”
Kushner said that in politics people don’t like putting out detail, because detail invites criticism: “We are actually seeking constructive feedback, and then we are going to modify it and move forward.”
Kushner said that the administration has no intention of “punishing” the Palestinian leadership for boycotting the conference.
“This isn’t about punishing the Palestinian people one way or the other; we are trying to help the Palestinian people,” he said.
He added that much of the criticism has come from people who have been involved with the issue for a very long time and “can get very jumpy” when things are not done their way.
“The ways of the past have not worked, and we are going to keep doing it in a way that is a logical framework,” he added. The Palestinians, he said, “don’t have a great track record in getting a deal done.”
Kushner said that the conference was specifically designed to invite finance ministers – the finance ministers of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Qatar were on hand – rather than foreign ministers, because the “traditional policy community” is “stuck” on the issue and seems unable to bring it forward.
He said that those who drew up the administration’s economic plan “were not aware of what is in the political plan,” which will be rolled out at a still yet-to-be-determined date.
“We’ll get to the political plan when we are ready to get to the political plan,” he said.
The last session of the conference included the finance ministers of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
UAE Minister of State for Financial Affairs Obaid al-Tayer gently chided the Palestinian Authority leadership for not showing up at the conference.
“We need to provide prosperity to the Palestinians, and they have to aspire for a better future,” he said. “If this is the initiative on the table, and what is being discussed, we should give it a chance.”
Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa also indicated in an interview with Channel 13 that the Palestinians made a mistake by not participating in the conference.
“It is always a mistake to miss an opportunity to achieve peace,” he said. “Yes, this has nothing to do with the [political] peace plan the US will propose. But this was an opportunity that we wanted to see them here, but they chose not to come.”
Asked what his message was to the Israeli public, Khalifa said, “Yes, you do have peace with Egypt and Jordan, and some kind of understanding with the Palestinians. But this is not the limit of the scope of where you belong. Israel is a country in the Middle East. It is part of the heritage of this region. The Jewish people have a place among us. So communication needs to be a prerequisite for solving all the dispute. We should talk.”
In an interview with KAN News, Khalifa said, “This is an opportunity not to be missed.” He likened it to the Camp David Accords which brought peace between Egypt and Israel, which he said was a “game-changer.”
“I think if we take this matter [the conference] seriously, it could be a very important game-changer,” he said.
The one Palestinian businessman who spoke at the conference, Ashraf Jabari from Hebron, said that the PA leadership did not boycott the conference, because it was not invited. “It is a conference for businesspeople,” he said.
Jabari was one of about a dozen Palestinian businesspeople who bucked the PA pressure and showed up at the event.
Asked by Kushner at one of the sessions on Wednesday what he would do were he the head of the PA, former British prime minister Tony Blair said that he learned two lessons in politics: Think creatively about one’s situation, and always engage.
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