Kushner: Palestinians not yet capable of governing themselves
White House senior adviser Jared Kushner said in an interview broadcast in the US on Sunday that the Palestinians deserve "self-determination", but stopped short of backing Palestinian statehood and expressed uncertainty over their ability to govern themselves.
Kushner, US President Donald Trump's son-in-law and a chief architect of the administration's yet-to-be-released Middle East peace plan, told the "Axios on HBO" television programme it would be a "high bar" when asked if the Palestinians could expect freedom from Israeli military and government interference.
Asked whether he understood why the Palestinians might not trust him, Kushner said: "I'm not here to be trusted" and that he believed the Palestinian people would judge the plan based on whether "they think this will allow them to have a pathway to a better life or not".
The Palestinian leadership has already boycotted the diplomatic effort that Trump has touted as the "deal of the century".
Speaking to the Reuters news agency on Friday, a senior Palestinian official said that "the plan doesn't give justice to the Palestinians".
"The Palestinian cause is being liquidated - no Jerusalem [as capital], no right of return for refugees, no sovereign state. That is why this American project is dangerous," the official said.
Kushner again avoided saying explicitly whether the plan would include a two-state solution, the bedrock of US policy for decades, which calls for a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with its capital in East Jerusalem.
But he said: "I do think they should have self-determination. I’m going to leave the details until we come out with the actual plan."
The Palestinian Authority has said it will not attend a US-sponsored investment conference in late June in Bahrain where the economic component is expected to be revealed.
US officials have been vague about the timing for releasing their proposals for resolving the thorny political issues at the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
But experts are sceptical of the Trump administration's chances of success.
With Israel heading for new elections in September after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a government, the uncertainty is expected to further delay the plan's rollout.
Asked whether he believed the Palestinians were capable of governing themselves without Israeli interference, Kushner said: "That's a very good question. That's one that we’ll have to see. The hope is that they, over time, will become capable of governing."
The Palestinians, he said, "need to have a fair judicial system... freedom of press, freedom of expression, tolerance for all religions" before the Palestinian areas can become "investable".
The Palestinian leadership has refused to deal with the Trump administration since late 2017 when the president decided to move the US embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv and recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is worried the plan will be considered "unworkable," and might not gain traction, US media reported on Sunday.
Pompeo's remarks to a private meeting of Jewish leaders, first reported by the Washington Post, show that even the plan's own backers expect the latest US blueprint for ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to be met with deep skepticism.
The economic components of the proposal are to be unveiled at a conference in Bahrain on June 25-26.
"It may be rejected. Could be in the end, folks will say, 'It's not particularly original, it doesn't particularly work for me,' that is, 'It's got two good things and nine bad things, I'm out,'" the Post reported, citing an audio recording of the meeting it had obtained.
When asked about the recording in an interview in Switzerland on Monday with the Sinclair Broadcast Group, Pompeo did not deny its authenticity.
He acknowledged that, given the "important relationship" the US has with Israel, "I could see how someone might be concerned that a plan that this administration put forward might - without knowing the true facts of what is contained in the plan - they might perceive that it was going to be fundamentally one-sided."
But, he stressed, "it is just simply not true. I think there will be things in this plan that lots of people like".
UN staying away
Along with the Palestinians, another key broker in the peace process, the United Nations, says it will stay away from the Bahrain meeting.
The body has passed several resolutions affirming a two-state solution to the conflict.
In the remarks delivered on Tuesday to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organisations, Pompeo acknowledged the blueprint's perceived favouritism to Israel but hoped it would nonetheless be given a fair hearing.
"I get why people think this is going to be a deal that only the Israelis could love," he said, according to the Post.
"I understand the perception of that. I hope everyone will just give the space to listen and let it settle in a little bit."
“We're doing our best to help the Middle East to get a peace plan," Trump told reporters when asked about the Pompeo recording.
"I understand why [Pompeo] said that. Most people would say it can't be done. I think it can be done."