In the “off-the-record” discussion, which was recorded and leaked to Wired, Kushner offers a rare glimpse into his efforts to solve the Middle East conflict.
“This is one of the ones I was asked to take on, and I did with this something that I do with every problem set you get, which is you try to study the historical context to understand how something got to where it is, who was successful, and who wasn’t successful,” Kushner said.
“What I’ve determined from looking at it is that not a whole lot has been accomplished over the last 40 or 50 years we’ve been doing this,” he added.
After speaking at length regarding recent efforts to quell the Temple Mount crisis, Kushner questioned whether or not the Trump administration would have anything “unique” to add to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“So, what do we offer that’s unique? I don’t know…I’m sure everyone that’s tried this has been unique in some ways, but again we’re trying to follow very logically,” Kushner said.
Kushner added that the U.S. is trying to work with the various parties in the conflict, but admitted that “there may be no solution,” before conceding the Trump administration will continue to “focus on it and try to come to the right conclusion in the near future.”
FULL TRANSCRIPT & VIDEO VIA WIRED.COM
So first of all, this is one of the ones I was asked to take on, and I did with this something that I do with every problem set you get. Which is you try to study the historical context to understand how something got to where it is, who was successful, and who wasn’t successful. And you try to [unintelligible] is research it and look at the conventional sources but also try to get some unconventional sources as well. And what I’ve determined from looking at it is that not a whole lot has been accomplished over the last 40 or 50 years we’ve been doing this.
And the other thing about it I’d say is that the variables haven’t been changed much, so at some point it’s just one of those things where you kind of have to just pick and choose where you draw conclusion. But that was the other observation I had.
The third one is that I have tried to look at why people haven’t been successful in the negotiations, so I looked and studied all the different negotiations. I spoke to a lot of people who have have been part of them, and I think the reason why is that this is a very emotionally charged situation. Look at what happened this past 10 days—a lot of seemingly logical measures taken on the different [unintelligible] part somehow became a little bit incendiary. But we were able to calm it down by having a lot of really great dialog between Jordan and the Palestinian authority and the Israelis.
I’d say what makes me hopeful about it is the fact that (a) we’ve had two achievements so far that I think are actually quite noteworthy, which I’ll talk about in a second. The reason why we haven’t been able to do that is the trust that we have with all sides. So if you’ve noticed about this conflict, and [unintelligible] nothing’s leaked out. So nothing has leaked out which I think gives the parties more trust, and more ability to really express and share their viewpoints. And ultimately, if you do a deal that when somebody had to compromise somewhere—all right so there’s a stated set of positions on one side. There’s a stated set of positions on the other side. And there’s a lot of viewpoints all around that people have, which may or may not be conducive to a solution. So I think you need to be able to probe people in private for them to have the confidence that it’s not going to be used against them, and that it’s not going to leak out in the press, which would be very, very hurtful. That’s been a big advantage, which has allowed us to really have a lot of very interesting conversations.
So the two successes that we’ve had so far is—I don’t know if you’re familiar with the deal we’ve had on the water with the Jordanians and the Israelis and the Palestinians—so I was saying that they’ve talked about in concept for a lot of years where [unintelligible] and we were able to figure out how we were going to negotiate a solution which simply [unintelligible] talking for a very, very long time. But again, that happened just because we’re talking to all sides. We don’t let them get caught in the past.
You know everyone finds an issue, that “You have to understand what they did then” and “You have to understand that they did this.” 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. That was one thing that we achieved, which we were quite happy about—which is, you know, small thing, but it’s actually a pretty big thing over there. But something that we thought was a pretty big step.
The other thing was working through, 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. And other people sometimes thrive in the chaos, and they thrive [unintelligible] and that’s not new to politics and its not new to that conflict. It’s just the way it is, and you always have people on all sides [unintelligible].
And again, all these people make arguments about why they feel the way they do. So as tensions were really mounting, I don’t know if everyone is familiar, but there were two people—two Israeli guards killed at the Temple Mount (and that’s the first time in many, many, many years that that happened, so Israelis [unintelligible] putting up metal detectors on the Temple Mount, which is not an irrational thing to do. You know when you have—police officers were just killed, and weapons that were used to [unintelligible] the weapons to check them—so then what happens is they start inciting it.
They say look, you know, this is a change to the status quo. The Temple Mount is a [unintelligible] occupation of Israel, and Israel was saying we don’t want anything to do with that, we just want to make sure people are safe. And that really incited a lot of tension in the streets.
So we’re going to work with them [unintelligible] to take down the metal detectors there, and then I think one of the Palestinians’ religious leaders was saying, “If you go through the metal detectors, then your prayers don’t count.” And that is not a very helpful thing to have said. And then there was a lot of rage. And there was an Israeli family that three people killed in their home, which was absolutely terrible. You know, so, “I’m going to do this to free the Temple Mount.” So ultimately we were able to work with them, and we were able to get the Israelis to take down to the different forms of surveillance that the Jordanians were OK with, and we talked with the Palestinians the whole time to try to get their viewpoint on it.
And then ultimately they said, “OK, we took down the metal detectors but there’s still a bridge up somewhere.” And they said, “OK, we’ll take that down, too.” And so Bibi was getting beaten up by the press in Israel, because that was very politically unpopular for him to do. At the same time we got a situation in Jordan where an Israeli security diplomat in Jordan was attacked by two Jordanian men, and in self-defense he killed the attackers. So then it worked out where the Jordanians got the Israelis to accept their people from the embassy back to Israel.
My point is that these things are very, very combustible and very, very delicate in terms of how you can do, but I think the fact that all these conversations were all done in quiet and nothing leaked out [unintelligible]. But I think we were able to keep things quiet. But I mean, any day something could happen.
So, what do we offer that’s unique? I don’t know … 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. And there may be no solution, but it’s one of the problem sets that the president asked us to focus on. So we’re going to focus on it and try to come to the right conclusion in the near future.