Kushner Wants Pragmatic Solution on Palestinian Refugees
2019-07-05 - 3:34 p
Bahrain Mirror- AFP: Jared Kushner hinted Wednesday that his Middle East peace plan will seek to better integrate Palestinian refugees inside Arab countries as he finalizes proposals despite being shunned by the Palestinian leadership.
A week after he convened an economic workshop in Bahrain that dangled the prospect of $50 billion in investment under a peace deal, President Donald Trump's son-in-law and advisor said he will announce the next steps "probably next week."
Kushner, promising a fresh approach to Middle East peacemaking after decades of failed attempts, said the Trump administration deliberately opened with economic incentives and will later give details on core political questions.
But in a conference call with Arab media, Kushner appeared to favor normalization of the status of Palestinian refugees who fled or were forced out of Israel when the Jewish state was created in 1948, as well as their descendants.
Noting that a similar number of Jews fled or were expelled from Arab countries, Kushner said: "What's happened to the Jewish refugees is they've been absorbed by different places, while the Arab world has not absorbed a lot of these refugees over time."
"This situation exists because it exists. And when we put out a political solution, we're going to try to put forward the best proposed solutions that we think are pragmatic, achievable and viable in this day and age," he said.
Asked about Lebanon -- where Palestinian refugees are mostly denied citizenship and many live in squalid camps -- Kushner said he believed that the country, long torn by communal tensions, wanted a "fair" solution.
"I also think that the Palestinian refugees who are in Lebanon, who are denied a lot of rights and don't have the best conditions right now, would also like to see a situation where there is a pathway for them to have more rights and to live a better life," Kushner said.
Israel has adamantly opposed a right of return by Palestinian refugees, saying it would effectively end the Jewish state.
- Wide Palestinian suspicion -
The Palestinians accuse the Trump administration of trying to use money to force pro-Israel solutions and are suspicious of Kushner, a family friend of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Trump took the landmark step of recognizing bitterly disputed Jerusalem as Israel's capital and Kushner earlier suggested that his plan would not mention a Palestinian state, a longtime goal of US diplomacy.
A poll released Wednesday found that an overwhelming 90 percent of Palestinians do not trust the Trump administration in its stated goal in Bahrain of helping the Palestinian economy.
Seventy-nine percent backed the leadership's boycott and a similar number called the participation of Arab nations such as Saudi Arabia an abandonment of the Palestinian cause, said the survey by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research of 1,200 adults across the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
But Kushner said the Palestinian leadership looked "very foolish" for its boycott, saying it had not shown any better way to improve the livelihoods of its people.
"It's been more hysterical and erratic and not terribly constructive," Kushner said of the Palestinian reaction.
But Kushner said that Trump, who values personal interaction, was open to meeting Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.
Trump "likes him very much personally and, at the right time, if they're willing to engage I believe that they'll find that they will have an opportunity," Kushner said.
The United States has also severely slashed funding for the UN refugee body that provides education and health services to five million Palestinians in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including east Jerusalem.
The Trump administration has called for the 70-year-old United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees to be dismantled, with its work taken over by host countries.