Jared Kushner meets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, June 21 2017..
(photo credit: AMOS BEN GERSHOM, GPO)
WASHINGTON – In an off the- record conversation with US Congressional interns on Monday, Jared Kushner said he was proud that details of his diplomatic efforts with Israelis and Palestinians have not yet leaked to the press.
Kushner’s private thoughts on the state of the conflict were recorded and shared with WIRED magazine, which released a partial transcript on Tuesday, infuriating the White House.
The transcript reveals Kushner – President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser tasked with leading the peace effort – being humbled by his predecessors and confounded by the long history of the conflict.
“Not a whole lot has been accomplished over the last 40 or 50 years,” he told the group.
“What do we offer that’s unique? I don’t know,” said Kushner. “I’m sure everyone that’s tried this has been unique in some ways, but again we’re trying to follow very logically. We’re thinking about what the right end-state is. And we’re trying to work with the parties very quietly to see if there’s a solution.”
Kushner has remained largely silent on his efforts to forge a Middle East peace – a critical part of his strategy, he explained to the group. His goal is to foster trust among the parties, which can only be established in private.
“There may be no solution, but it’s one of the problem sets that the president asked us to focus on,” he added. “So we’re going to focus on it and try to come to the right conclusion in the near future.”
Trump has referred to a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement as the “toughest deal of all,” and assigned the portfolio to Kushner, who has no diplomatic or field experience.
Kushner said he is educating himself on the conflict by studying its “historical context,” by speaking with its veterans and by reading up on the work of past envoys.
He has learned thus far that over the course of decades, “the variables haven’t been changed much.”
“This is a very emotionally charged situation,” Kushner told the group. “These things are very, very combustible, and very, very delicate.”
Whatever goodwill Kushner has built over six months of talks was tested last week when a crisis cascaded down the Temple Mount over security arrangements. Palestinian officials thought Kushner and his team took Israel’s side, according to public and private accounts.
Indeed, Kushner said he considered Israel’s additional security measures on the holy plateau to be a logical and apolitical response to the shooting attack there on July 14. But he told the group he ultimately encouraged Israel to scale those measures back.
“In this past week, it really showed us how quickly things can ignite in our history, and you have some people who don’t want to see and achieve an outcome of peace,” Kushner said. “And other people sometimes thrive in the chaos.”
Kushner also offered a defense of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a family friend from his childhood who took a beating in Israel’s press last week over his management of the crisis.
The killings, riots and political threats that followed a single act of violence on the Temple Mount proved a teaching moment for Kushner; he is learning firsthand how volatile the region can be. And yet, the event also proved an opportune moment for Trump’s team, which tested its engagement strategy with the Israelis, Palestinians and regional players in Amman and Riyadh.
Indeed, quiet talks successfully diffused the crisis – a redeeming moment for Kushner, who is hoping to keep what remains of a peace process out of public view.
“Everyone finds an issue that, ‘you have to understand what they did then’ and ‘you have to understand that they did this,’” Kushner said. “But how does that help us get peace? Let’s not focus on that. We don’t want a history lesson. We’ve read enough books. Let’s focus on how do you come up with a conclusion to the situation.”