REPORTER: What have you learned from Arab leaders on your recent trip through the Middle East?
KUSHNER: That the prospects for peace are very much alive. The leaders we met with all care a lot about the Palestinian people, and know that the lives of the Palestinian people can only be made better when there is a peace deal that is agreed to by both sides. They know that it is a tough deal to make, which is why it has eluded both sides for decades, but they all acknowledge the good that will come to the region if an understanding of peace is achieved.
REPORTER: What are the points that are most important to the Arab leaders to see in a peace plan?
KUSHNER: They conveyed they want to see a Palestinian State with a capital in East Jerusalem. They want a deal where the Palestinian people can live in peace and be afforded the same economic opportunities as the citizens of their own countries. They want to see a deal that respects the dignity of the Palestinians and brings about a realistic solution to the issues that have been debated for decades. They all insist that Al Aqsa Mosque remain open to all Muslims who wish to worship.
REPORTER: Does the deal you are working on accommodate these points?
KUSHNER: I don’t want to speak about specifics of the deal we are working on, but like I said in my speech in Jerusalem — I believe that for a deal to be made, both parties will gain more than they give and feel confident that the lives of their people will be better off in decades from now because of the compromises they make. It will be up to the leadership and the people of both sides to determine what is an acceptable compromise in exchange for significant gains.
REPORTER: You mention “up to the people.” Are you saying that you could see a world in which you put out a plan and let the people vote on it?
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KUSHNER: I didn’t say that, but that’s something that the leadership of both sides should consider doing. Perhaps that’s a way for them to take less political risk on endorsing a solution, but that is still a few steps ahead of where we are now.
REPORTER: This conflict has been going on for so long and so many people have tried to bring a resolution on what seems like intractable problems — how is your approach different?
KUSHNER: We have done a lot of listening and have spent our time focusing on the people and trying to determine what they actually want. At the end of the day, I believe that Palestinian people are less invested in the politicians’ talking points than they are in seeing how a deal will give them and their future generations new opportunities, more and better paying jobs and prospects for a better life. Each of the political issues are very controversial and there are people on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides who will object to any compromise. We think that the deal should be looked at by both sides as a package and both sides should ask themselves — are we better-off with what we are getting in exchange for what we are giving? Not everyone will agree that it’s the right package, but reaching for peace takes courage and the need to take the right calculated risks. Without the people pushing the politicians to focus on their needs and giving them the courage to take a chance, this will never be solved.
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REPORTER: What do you make of the recent statements by Nabil Abu Rudeineh, the spokesman for President Abbas, that your trip is a “waste of time and is bound to fail”?
KUSHNER: I think the Palestinian leadership is saying those things because they are scared we will release our peace plan and the Palestinian people will actually like it because it will lead to new opportunities for them to have a much better life.
REPORTER: Have you reached out to President Abbas to see if he would meet you on this trip?
KUSHNER: Not directly. President Abbas knows we are in the region and we have many mutual contacts who convey messages — he knows that we are open to meeting him and continuing the discussion when he is ready. He has said publicly he will not meet us and we have opted not to chase him.
We have continued our work on the plan and on building consensus on what is realistically achievable today and what will endure for the future. If President Abbas is willing to come back to the table, we are ready to engage; if he is not, we will likely air the plan publicly.
REPORTER: When will you be ready?
KUSHNER: Soon. We are almost done.
REPORTER: Will the breakdown in the relationship with President Abbas impact your ultimate ability to get a deal done?
KUSHNER: President Abbas says that he is committed to peace and I have no reason not to believe him. More importantly, President Trump committed to him early on that he would work to make a fair deal for the Palestinian people. However, I do question how much President Abbas has the ability to, or is willing to, lean into finishing a deal. He has his talking points which have not changed in the last 25 years. There has been no peace deal achieved in that time. To make a deal both sides will have to take a leap and meet somewhere between their stated positions. I am not sure President Abbas has the ability to do that.
REPORTER: What makes you think he doesn’t have that ability?
KUSHNER: I didn’t say that he doesn’t have the ability, I said I am not sure. I greatly respect that there are many things he has done well for establishing the foundations of peace, but I don’t think the Palestinian people feel like their lives are getting better and there is only so long you can blame that on everyone other than Palestinian leadership. The global community is getting frustrated with Palestinian leadership and not seeing many actions that are constructive towards achieving peace. There are a lot of sharp statements and condemnations, but no ideas or efforts with prospects of success. Those who are more skeptical say President Abbas is only focused on his political survival and cementing a legacy of not having compromised than on bettering the lives of the Palestinian people.
REPORTER: Do you think that is the case?
KUSHNER: I hope not. My job is to work with the parties in charge, so I am ready to work with President Abbas if he is willing. There is a good deal to be done here from what I assess.
REPORTER: What does “economic prosperity” look like for the Palestinian people in your view?
KUSHNER: Think about the prospects for the Palestinian people over a 5-20 year horizon if they get massive investments in modern infrastructure, job training and economic stimulus. The world is going through a technological industrial revolution and the Palestinian people can be beneficiaries by leapfrogging to be leaders in the next industrial age. The Palestinian people are industrious, well educated and adjacent to the Silicon Valley of the Middle East — Israel. Israel’s prosperity would spill over very quickly to the Palestinians if there is peace. Many countries from around the world are ready to invest if there is a peace agreement. I feel strongly that while in order to make a peace deal you need to define and have secure borders, economically you want to eliminate boundaries and allow the economies to become more integrated to increase the opportunity and prosperity for all of the people — including the Jordanians and Egyptians and beyond.
REPORTER: So what you are working on is more regional in nature?
KUSHNER: The actual deal points are between the Israelis and the Palestinians, but the economic plan we are working on can show what comes as part of a deal when it is achieved with some massive investments that will extend to the Jordanian and Egyptian people as well. This conflict has held the whole region back and there is so much untapped potential that can be released if peace is achieved.
REPORTER: Can you give some details about the economic plan you are working on?
KUSHNER: Yes. We believe we can attract very significant investments in infrastructure from the public and private sectors to make the whole region more connected and to stimulate the economies of the future. This will lead to increases in GDP and we also hope that a blanket of peaceful coexistence can allow the governments to divert some of their funds from heavy investments in military and defense into better education, services and infrastructure for their people.
REPORTER: I know you recently hosted a conference on Gaza in the White House. Has anything come from that? What are you doing to make that situation better while we are all watching it deteriorate before our eyes?
KUSHNER: Well, what’s happening in Gaza is very sad. The humanitarian situation started long before President Trump came into office, but nonetheless we must try and make improvements. The level of desperation and despair shows the worst-case scenario of what happens when these problems are left unresolved and allowed to linger. The people of Gaza are hostages to bad leadership. Their economy has spiraled downward because of the inability to have connectivity with the world. As long as there are rockets being fired and tunnels being dug, there will be a chokehold on resources allowed to enter. It’s a vicious cycle. I think the only path for the people of Gaza is to encourage the leadership to aim for a true cease-fire that gives Israel and Egypt the confidence to start allowing more commerce and goods to flow to Gaza. This is the only way to solve the problem from what I have seen. Many countries would be willing to invest in Gaza if there was a true prospect for a different path. It will take some leadership in Gaza though to get on that path.
REPORTER: Saeb Erekat recently criticized your efforts to help Gaza saying it’s a political situation that you are trying to make a humanitarian issue in order to divide the Palestinians. Is this your intent?
KUSHNER: The last I checked they are divided, they are not connected by government or land and it’s needlessly become a dire humanitarian situation because the Palestinian leadership has made it a political situation. While it’s been on a downward spiral for a decade, long before this administration got involved, with multiple wars and a terrorist government, the political dysfunction, greatly exacerbated by the PA’s salary cuts, has made Gaza ungovernable. It’s time for the Palestinian Authority and Hamas to stop using the people of Gaza as pawns. The narrative of victimhood may feel good for the moment and help you grab headlines but it doesn’t do anything to improve lives. President Trump cares a lot about the Palestinian people and so yes we are looking very closely at Gaza and have spent a lot of time with our partners and hope to put forth ideas to relieve some of the pressure and try to change the trajectory of the situation for the people. Finally we have said from the beginning that there is no path to peace without finding a solution for Gaza.
REPORTER: Do you see a world where the Israelis and Palestinians can coexist peacefully?
KUSHNER: I really hope so. A lot of people tell me that this can never happen because there is a lot of distrust and hatred that comes from years of conflict and people using politics to blame the hardships of life on others. There have been wars, conflicts, demonstrations, acts of terrorism and more. This is not exactly a solid foundation on which you can build coexistence and peace.
However, I am an optimist and I have met so many people and also have seen so many examples of Israelis and Palestinians reaching out to each other and trying to forge bonds to try and circumvent a failed political process. These people know their lives will only be improved by working out the issues and moving on. So yes, there is a lot of hatred and a lot of scar tissue, but I do not underestimate humankind’s ability to love. To be successful, we must be willing to forgive in the present, not forget the past, but work hard towards a brighter future.
REPORTER: You clearly are very focused on improving the economic circumstances of the Palestinian people — what about the traditional core issues?
KUSHNER: The traditional core issues are essential and we focus on them extensively with a strong appreciation of the historic differences between the two sides. We are committed to finding a package of solutions that both sides can live with. Simply resolving core issues without creating a pathway to a better life will not lead to a durable solution.
REPORTER: Finally, if you could deliver a message directly to the Palestinian people, what would it be?
KUSHNER: You deserve to have a bright future. Now is a time where both the Israelis and Palestinians must bolster and refocus their leadership, to encourage them to be open towards a solution and to not be afraid of trying. There have been countless mistakes and missed opportunities over the years, and you, the Palestinian people, have paid the price.
Show your leadership that you support efforts to achieve peace. Let them know your priorities and give them the courage to keep an open mind towards achieving them. Don’t let your leadership reject a plan they haven’t even seen. A lot has happened in the world since this conflict began decades ago. The world has moved forward while you have been left behind.
Don’t allow your grandfather’s conflict to determine your children’s future. My dream is for the Israeli and Palestinian people to be the closest of allies in combating terror, economic achievement, advancements in science and technology, and in sharing a lifestyle of brotherhood, peace and prosperity.
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