Press Briefing on United Arab Emirates-Israel Relations with Senior Advisor Jared Kushner
August 17, 2020
Moderator: Good afternoon to everyone from the Department of State’s London Media Hub. I’d like to welcome our participants dialing in from the Middle East and from around the world for this on-the-record press briefing with Jared Kushner, Senior Advisor to the President of the United States.
Today, Senior Advisor Kushner will discuss the establishment of diplomatic relations between the United Arab Emirates and Israel. We’ll begin today’s briefing with opening remarks from Senior Advisor Kushner, then open the floor for questions.
I’ll now turn it over to Senior Advisor Kushner for a few opening remarks. Sir, the floor is yours.
Senior Advisor Kushner: Thank you very much and thank you to everyone for joining. I’m happy to take your questions, but I’ll give you a quick overview on where we are and how we got here. Obviously, this historic breakthrough, this is the first peace agreement in the region in 26 years, and only the third in the last 70 with Israel. And so I do think it gives a lot of people great optimism that the Middle East doesn’t have to be stuck in conflicts of the past and that, thanks to President Trump’s leadership, we’ve started aligning people around shared interests, joint opportunities, and shared threats, and hopefully this leads to a whole new set of progress that can bring the region forward.
If you think about the campaign that President Trump ran, the Middle East was a very, very big issue last time. The Iran deal had just happened, which upset a lot of people here in America. They couldn’t get it passed by Congress; they sent $150 billion, several billion dollars, in cash to Iran and gave them a broad path to a nuclear weapon. A lot of America’s allies felt very betrayed and alienated by the deal. There was tons of instability caused, whether it was civil war in Syria, Iraq was a mess, Yemen was a mess, Libya was a mess, and then ISIS was roaming free and had a caliphate the size of Ohio, and so where they were beheading American journalists and planning a lot of threats to America. We also had a lot of content online that was being pushed out to radicalize people all throughout the world, most extending from the Middle East, and a lot of funding coming from the Middle East as well.
President Trump’s first trip as President was to Riyadh, where he gathered the 54 leaders of Muslim and Arab countries to lay out his vision for what needed to be dealt with in the Middle East. After that trip, he went to Israel and then he went to visit the Pope in Rome to address that all three Abrahamic faiths needed to come together to work on joint opportunities, as opposed to old grievances, if we wanted to push the world forward.
In the President’s speech, he laid out four key objectives. The first one was that Iran was a problem and that we needed to all come together to constrain their aggression, and we’ve since taken great steps to do that. Number two was obviously ISIS, and we needed to make progress there, and we have. Number three was fighting the long-term battle against extremism and people who use the Islamic faith to try to sow destruction and cause instability, wrongfully using the faith to do that. And obviously, at that trip we launched the counterterror finance center and the counter-extremism center with Saudi Arabia, the custodian of the two holy sites, and both centers have been quite successful as we’ve seen the level of radicalization going down and we see the amount of money going to terror groups going down. And then the fourth one was the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which obviously we’ve made great efforts on over the last months – over the last years.
So if you take what’s happened over the last couple of years and you tie it all together, President Trump obviously moved the capital to Jerusalem, recognized the Golan Heights, got out of the Iran deal, showing people in the region that, number one, he keeps his word, and building trust back from his allies, showing that he’s going to stand for what’s right and that he had a view of the region that would align with what a lot of people saw of where the problems were coming from.
We led the Warsaw Conference where we brought Prime Minister Netanyahu together with several of the Arab foreign ministers, where they were all basically talking off the same sheet of music about what the threats were in the region and how the countries had a lot more in common than people thought. And then we had the economic conference in Bahrain where we laid out a vision for the Palestinian people, where we laid out a very detailed $50 billion economic plan for how to make the Palestinian people’s lives better. That plan would double their GDP, create a million new jobs, and reduce their poverty rate by 50 percent. The Palestinians boycotted that conference and everyone else still showed up, which really changed the narrative in the region to basically people saying, “What’s wrong with the Palestinian leadership?”
Finally, the President laid out his Vision for Peace in January of this year. Many people thought it would be a one-state solution. Through that vision, which was a two-state solution and is the first map ever agreed to by one of the parties and publicly put out in a peace negotiation, he got Israel to agree to negotiate on the basis of the President’s vision, agree to the map, and agree to move forward on a Palestinian state. This was a major breakthrough that changed the view of a lot of people in the region about Israel’s seriousness to actually make concessions to resolve this longstanding conflict. It showed other regional players that Israel was serious and that it was time to move forward in the region.
As we move forward to apply – to implement the plan and apply Israeli sovereignty to areas of the West Bank, that the deal we were working on was that Israel, in exchange for this, would not expand further. So we would give a four-year freeze and the Palestinians wouldn’t – Israel wouldn’t go beyond the barriers of what we agreed to in the plan, therefore saving the opportunity for a Palestinian state for the next four years. This was something we were getting close on, but a lot of people were objecting to it. And as we were moving forward, the United Arab Emirates thought that perhaps by normalizing with Israel and taking their relation to the next level they could stop that and save the possibility of having Israel be condemned for it and give the Palestinian people hope that there is an opportunity for a negotiated settlement still on the table.
The United Arab Emirates and Israel are two security powerhouses, two technology powerhouses, two economic powerhouses, and I do believe you’re going to start seeing tremendous commerce between the two countries. Israelis are very excited that they can get cheaper flights now by flying through Dubai, and I know a lot of Muslims are excited that they can now fly through Dubai to Tel Aviv to go and visit the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which Israel has said is – where the king of Jordan will remain as the custodian and that is something that is now open to all Muslims. And I will say that for at least the last hundred years or longer, radicals have used the threat of the mosque in order to try to sow division and radicalization, but the more that we can get Muslims to come and pray at the mosque freely and peacefully, the more people throughout the world will realize the mosque is not under attack, the mosque is open, and that hopefully will reduce the tension that exists between Israel and the Muslim world based on some historic anti-Semitic divides that have existed for far too long.
And obviously, with regards to the issue between Israel and the Palestinians, that really reduces that to a territorial dispute. Israel’s made a very generous offer for a state and for land swaps, and the ball is really in the court of the Palestinians now. And obviously, we welcome them any time to come to the table. And I think that President Trump has earned the trust of a lot of the regional partners, more so than his predecessors, and that’s what enabled this historic peace breakthrough to come about.
What I will say is that as one of the people who has been one of the few optimists about the Middle East over the last few years, what I’ve seen over the last four days is that a lot more people are now beginning to be optimistic about the potential. People are looking at all of the great opportunities that can exist by working together if we let go of some of the conflicts of the past and figure out how to carve a much brighter and better future. So we couldn’t be more optimistic. We do believe there will be more normalizations with Israel, and we do believe at some point the Israeli-Palestinian issue now will get resolved on the basis of the Vision for Peace. There is room for negotiation in that vision and President Trump is ready to engage at any time to try and resolve it. But again, we’re not going to chase the Palestinian leadership. We’ve reached out to them to basically say if you want to engage now, this – the allocation of Israeli sovereignty to these areas is on hold. Obviously, that – they said they would come back and negotiate if that happened; that has now happened, so we’ll see what they decide to do.
So again, there’s a lot of reasons to be optimistic now in the Middle East, a lot of good opportunity, but we’ve only got to where we are today by President Trump’s leadership and by his strategy to the region, which has dramatically changed the way that people are perceiving the region, changed what’s possible in the region, and I will say that he’s also set the table for a lot more great breakthroughs in the months and years ahead. So we’re quite optimistic and I think that we can’t understate the significance of this breakthrough. I think Tom Friedman called it an earthquake that hit the region, and I think that that was – is hopefully something that we’ll be able to get a lot more done on for a long time so that people can focus on economic opportunity and less on radicalization, and more on kind of how we can all come together as different faiths and different people to bring the region forward.
With that, should we open it to questions?
Moderator: Thank you, Senior Advisor Kushner. We’ll now begin the question and answer portion of today’s call. Please state your name and affiliation and limit yourself to one question related to the topic of today’s briefing. Questions submitted in advance have been incorporated into the queue. And with that, we’ll begin with BBC Arabic’s Candice Hatem. She submitted the question, “How can the American administration ensure that the Israeli side will implement to stop the annexation process, as stipulated in the agreement?”
Senior Advisor Kushner: So again, we’ve built a very trusting relationship with Israel. President Trump, you heard in his comments, he’s committed to holding them accountable to it. And Israel has agreed with us that they will not move forward without our consent. We do not plan to give our consent for some time as right now the focus has to be on getting this new peace agreement implemented. We really want to get as much interchange between Israel and the United Arab Emirates as possible, and we want Israel to focus on creating new relationships and new alliances.
So again, that land is land that right now Israel, quite frankly, controls. It’s Israelis who are living there. It’s not going anywhere. There shouldn’t be any urgency for them to apply Israeli law. And so we believe that they will stick to their agreement. And again, they have trust with President Trump. I don’t believe [inaudible] because he’s been a great ally for Israel. And a lot of people said when we moved the embassy, “Well, why aren’t you getting anything in return?” And President Trump said, well, first of all, it’s the right thing to do and you shouldn’t have to get something for doing [inaudible] as a promise that he made, and so he keeps his promises. And then number three is he did get something that a lot of the pundits didn’t pick up on, which is he got the trust of the Israeli public and the Israeli Government, and that’s something that’s proven to be quite valuable. He trusts them and they trust him, and we do not believe that they will go forward against the deal that we made. And they are very excited about the peace that they have now with the United Arab Emirates and about the potential for more peace that will come.
Moderator: Great. We will take our first question from the English line from Monalisa Freiha of Annahar newspaper.
Question: [Inaudible] Prime Minister Netanyahu won’t go with his plan to annex the West Bank?
Moderator: I’m sorry, I just heard the last part of that. Do you mind repeating?
Question: Yeah, yeah. Is there any assurances that or guarantees that Mr. Prime Minister Netanyahu won’t go on with his planned annexation to annex the West Bank?
Senior Advisor Kushner: Yes, he has given us assurances that he will not do it without our consent, and that’s good enough for us. So again, a piece of paper is worth less, often, than the agreement between countries, and right now we have an understanding together and that understanding is built on a lot of years of trust and relation. And so we believe that that agreement will hold, and so far it has.
Moderator: Great. Our next question comes from the Arabic line, Shawki Mahmoud from [inaudible] Al-Seyassah. He asks, “What is your response to what is said about American pressure on Kuwait and the GCC countries to establish diplomatic relations with Israel?”
Senior Advisor Kushner: Well, we have not been putting pressure; we’ve – look, countries will do things that are in their interest to do. Kuwait has a very funny history with the Palestinians, right. When Kuwait was invaded by Iraq, I think that Yasser Arafat and the Palestinians sided with Saddam Hussein, and after that Kuwait kicked out 400,000 Palestinians. And now they are out there; they’ve taken a very radical view on the conflict to date in favor of the Palestinians, and obviously that hasn’t been very constructive.
What we see in the region right now is that it’s in the interests of a lot of these countries, both from a security point of view and from an economic point of view, to have relations with Israel. And again, we believe that countries will do what’s in their best interests. We’re willing to help facilitate it because there hasn’t been great channels of communications between some of these countries. And while there is a relationship with Israel in some, the trust isn’t fully there because these are newer relationships, and what we’ve done over the last years is try to accelerate the relationships, build the trust, and then what we’ve been able to do with the joint trust that America has built is try to be the mediator to finalize a lot of the finer points of these agreements.
So we do believe a lot more of the GCC countries will want to see a move forward, and quite frankly, the Palestinian people will only – their lives will only start being made better when their leadership decides that they want to finalize this conflict, right. So the conflict right now, there’s a full offer on the table; they can have a Palestinian state, they could have self-determination, they could have dignity. The mosque right now, that issue is fairly resolved in that the king of Jordan is the custodian of the mosque and Muslims who want to come and pray can come and pray. So that issue feels fairly resolved at this point. And then with regards to – with regards to the Palestinian leadership, they just need to sit down and say, hey, where do we finalize the map, and then we have a big economic plan that we can rush in [inaudible] against corruption and – but they need to make some reforms to make sure there’s a fair judiciary. When we did our Bahrain conference, they had people walking around the streets saying that their [inaudible] all the businessmen who came to the conference. And so it’s not really a free and fair economic society when people don’t have the ability to express their point of views. And so if you want to get international investors to come in and help the Palestinian people, you need to have an environment that’s pro-business, pro-growth, has transparency, and they have to have faith that their investments aren’t going to be destroyed because of – because of wars and skirmishes.
So I think that we’re very close to a lot of breakthroughs in the region, and I think a lot of GCC countries want to have breakthroughs, but President Trump’s approach has not been to put pressure on people. You can’t – the goal is if you make peace and have a relationship, you want that relationship to endure and last. And a relationship that’s built on pressure is not one that’s going to last. We’d rather help build people – bring people together and build these relationships on shared interests and common threats so that leaders from both countries know that they’re getting involved together so that they can keep their citizens safer and give their citizens more economic opportunity, and that’s the right foundation off of which these relationships should be built, not based on pressure.
Moderator: All right, we have time for two more questions. We’ll take the next one from the English line: Joseph Haboush of Al Arabiya.
Question: Thanks for doing this. I’d like to ask, how does the – this recent peace deal and those being worked on impact stability in the region, especially that two of the countries bordering Israel – being Lebanon and Syria – are heavily influenced by Iran, and you’ve also got Iraq’s fate hanging in the balance, also being a country Tehran has invested in via its proxies and militias? Do you see a turning tide against Iran in the region? Thank you.
Senior Advisor Kushner: So yeah, that’s a great question. Even The New York Times today had a big story about how Iran is losing the street in the region, and I think that that speaks to this. Again, Israel is always a very convenient scapegoat, right. For the last several years, a lot of the leaders in the region have used Israel as a distraction to divert attention with their publics against – instead of some – instead of having – away from some of their own shortcomings at home. And what you’re seeing now is that with the state of Israel not the main issue of the region over the last few years, people are realizing that there’s more instability and there’s threats to them because of Tehran. I mean, there’s been no Israeli missiles that landed in Saudi Arabia; there were Iranian missiles that landed in Saudi Arabia. There were no Israeli missiles that landed in the UAE; there was Iranian missiles that landed there. There are no Israeli proxies that are destabilizing Syria and Lebanon; it’s Iranian-backed militias that are destabilizing Yemen and Syria and Lebanon.
And so I think people in the region have started to see that even more so over the last years, and there’s a big blowback in these countries against the Iranian influence. And Iran at some point is going to have to make a decision, right, and that decision is to focus on making your people’s lives better, stop trying to be [inaudible] on all of your neighbors. You have to stop playing these old games. Stop trying to export terror and extremism. And if they do that, then they’ll be embraced by the region. But [inaudible] have a region that’s going to be focused on the future if these old squabbles that are often exploited by the extremists are still around. That’s why it’s very critical for all of these countries to finalize their relations with Israel and to not allow these bad actors to exploit these divisions that, quite frankly, shouldn’t exist.
So Iran’s place in the region has changed dramatically. Their financial condition has changed dramatically thanks to President Trump’s leadership of ending the deal and the sanctions that we’ve imposed, and I think that that will keep going. And the more that countries come together, like Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia and others, the harder it will be for Iran to divide and conquer like they’ve done for years. And so they’ve always exploited the divisions in the region, so if you think about the people who don’t want Saudi Arabia and Israel to make a peace agreement, the number one proponent of that is going to be Iran. And so, but I think that that just shows that it’s probably the right thing to do and it’s an inevitability and it’ll be very good for Saudi business and it’ll be very good for Saudi defense, and that, quite frankly, I think it will also help the Palestinian people because the more Israel has relations with the Arab countries, the more we’ll be able to do things that are kind of kind of co- and joint investments to make the lives of the Palestinian people better.
Moderator: All right. For our final question we have Bander Alwarthan of Alyaum newspaper who asks, “Can we hear more on U.S.-Saudi cooperation on peace plans in the Middle East?”
Senior Advisor Kushner: I’m sorry, do you mind doing that one more time?
Moderator: Yes, Bander Alwarthan of Alyaum newspaper asks, “Can we hear more on the U.S.-Saudi collaboration on peace plans in the Middle East?”
Senior Advisor Kushner: So I’ve had many discussions now with MBS about it, and then also with King Salman about it. King Salman has a very, very strong place in his heart for the Palestinian people and for the cause, and MBS does, the crown prince, MBS, does as well. And what they basically said is that they want to see Saudi Arabia move forward in the region. They don’t like the instability that’s caused. But they do want to see the Palestinian people have a state, they want to see them have economic opportunity, and they’d like to see this resolved.
But Saudi Arabia put out a very positive statement when we put out our Vision for Peace calling for both parties to negotiate on the basis, and I do believe that every [inaudible] disappointed by the way that the Palestinian leadership has played their hand where they – it’s almost like it doesn’t matter what proposal you put out, they have the same talking points that their attack dogs say, and quite frankly, I feel like the world has started to block out the noise that comes out of there because it’s just so predictable and illogical. And so we held a conference to invest $50 billion for – in the Palestinian – for the Palestinian economy, and they criticized us. We put out a plan that basically had a Palestinian state and gave them most of what they’ve ever wanted, and they criticized us. We made a peace deal in the region, and they criticized us. I just think that their credibility is really falling to an all-time low, and even people who want to help the Palestinians, those people are just seeing that you can’t help people who don’t want to help themselves.
And so, quite frankly, there’s a lot of frustration in the region with the Palestinian leadership, and it’s not just from the Palestinian people; it’s also from their traditional allies, and it’s because they’re just either – they’re either stuck in the past or they don’t want to make peace or maybe they have a plan that none of us can figure out. But I don’t see how their current actions are leading to the Palestinian people having a better life. And quite frankly, I think that the leaders in the Arab world, they just want to see the Palestinian people – they want to see this resolved. In the past, a lot of Arab leaders had seen this conflict as a pawn, but right now you have a lot of the leaders wanting to see it resolved so that we can move forward.
Moderator: All right. I’ll now turn it over to Senior Advisor Kushner for closing remarks.
Senior Advisor Kushner: Perfect. No, that’s really it. So thank you guys so much, and again, let’s all stay optimistic. Let’s hope that we can make more change. And the one thing I’ll just really ask all of you is that – and you have a lot of people who use tired talking points or who are complaining. When they bring those points up I would ask them, well, what is your solution? What is the pathway forward? We’ve taken a lot of time on this file. We’ve spoken to everyone. We’ve done a lot of listening. We’ve put out a really extensive plan for peace and how to move things forward. We’ve now gotten countries to bridge divides.
This region will never be truly great – it’s such a – the region – until these issues are resolved. The region has so much potential. It has natural resources. It has an innovative population. It has a young population. We need to get these countries interconnected with each other and we need to take the cancers of conflict – we need to extract them from the region. But unfortunately, while there is – while people still allow some of these leaders and these groups to exploit division, that’s going to continue to hold back the region from achieving its true potential, and that’s going to shortchange tens of millions of young people from the Middle East of achieving the potential that they have.
So this is a historic time. President Trump’s leadership and his strategy are working. And we’re going to continue to double and triple down on the region in order to make progress towards having a more peaceful, safer, and prosperous world. Thank you.
Moderator: All right. That concludes today’s call. I’d like to thank Senior Advisor Kushner for joining us and thank all of our callers for participating. If you have any questions about today’s call, you may contact the London Media Hub at LondonHub@state.gov. Information on how to access the English recording of this call will be provided by AT&T shortly. Thank you and have a great day.
Senior Advisor Kushner: Thank you, guys. Bye.