Moderator: Greetings to everyone from the U.S. International Media Hub in London. I’d like to welcome our participants dialing in and thank you all for joining this discussion.
Today’s call will focus on the administration’s economic plan and the upcoming economic workshop “From Peace to Prosperity” in Bahrain.
Our speaker today is Mr. Jared Kushner, Senior Advisor to the President of the United States.
We’ll begin today’s call with opening remarks from Mr. Kushner and then we will turn to your questions. We will try to get to as many as we can during the time that we have. I’d like to note that there has been a change in today’s ground rules and this call is on-the-record, and all remarks can be used and attributed to Mr. Kushner.
With that, I will turn it over to Mr. Jared Kushner.
Mr. Kushner: Thank you very much. I just want to thank everyone for taking the time to join today. It’s an honor to speak to all of you and to meet some of you for the first time.
I just wanted to give a quick overview. We released on I think Saturday the economic portion of the project that we’ve been working on, the vision for “Peace to Prosperity.” We’ve been very happy with the feedback we’ve received. We think it’s generated a very, very good discussion, particularly in the West Bank, in Gaza.
What we tried to do when we laid this out, when we got involved in this file, the first thing we started doing is working on what could be a political solution between the two sides, but we realized very quickly that without an economic future, then no political solution could really hold, and we do feel that it’s a very important component to anything that could happen.
Right now you have a status quo that is unsustainable. The Palestinian people have been trapped in this situation for a long time. And what we wanted to show the Palestinian people and also the leadership is that there is a pathway forward that could be quite exciting.
We peer-reviewed this with a lot of leading economists and experts in the world, we’ve gotten nominal feedback from them. We’ve developed this with a lot of feedback from across the globe. And now the purpose of hosting a workshop is to share it now with some of the top investors and development bank experts in the world, and hope that they come back and are able to give us more feedback so that we’re able to refine it and hopefully agree globally on what a path forward could look like.
I will say that none of this would be possible to implement without having a peace agreement, so the whole notion of having this economic plan is something that can show people what is possible if there is a peace agreement. But right now in order for these areas to thrive you need to have a proper security situation because investors don’t feel comfortable investing where there’s not proper security. We need to be able to figure out how to allow the borders to move quicker for those people and goods, but again, that can only happen in a peaceful situation.
Then in addition to that, we have a situation where there’s rule of law and that people feel comfortable investing capital.
So this is a plan that is a mixture of figuring out how do we build the right necessary infrastructure that’s necessary, but also engaging with the private sector and figuring out how do we stimulate business.
We believe this plan will double the GDP of the area over ten years, create over a million new jobs, reduce the poverty rate by 50 percent, bring unemployment to below 10 percent. Again, we do believe this is doable. It’s very hard to execute. But again, if there is a peace agreement and we set up the right structure we think it could really lead to improving people’s lives in a very, very substantial way.
Again, the whole notion of how we approached this file from the time we started was what can we do to help make the lives of the Palestinian and Israeli people better? What are the things that they both want? How do we push on the things where we agree, and then figure out how to come up with creative compromises for areas where there’s disagreement.
The political side we’ll come out with when we’re ready, but for the time being we’re very happy to release the economic plan. The feedback I’ve gotten has mostly been very, very positive. People who have spent time going through all 140 pages that we produced were pleasantly surprised with the depth and the detail of what we’ve put out. Again, I think it stands up to scrutiny.
Some of the criticisms we’ve gotten, I think a lot of it’s been more emotional than actually specific. Nobody’s actually refuted our core premise that this would do a lot to stimulate the economy. I’d say people are saying that well this can’t happen without a political solution. We agree with that. That’s been our premise from the very beginning. And some people say it’s pulled from different work that’s been done in the past, and that’s absolutely true. We’ve studied every report, every analysis, every assessment of what’s been done, and then we’ve worked with our different economic teams to try to see what package of investments and efforts done at the same time could actually yield to have good results.
So we’re building off a lot of good work that’s been done. We’re bringing it together. We’ve seen a lot of support from people throughout the world, and we’re very pleased with the attendance that we’ll have at the workshop and very pleased with a lot of the feedback we’ve gotten to date.
With that, I’ll open it to questions and let’s have some fun.
Moderator: Our first question will come from Michel Ghandour of Al Hurra.
Question: To what extent will the conference succeed, since the main parties are not attending? I meant Israelis and Palestinians. When do you expect to present the political piece plan? And do you have the time to promote it during the U.S. election year?
Mr. Kushner: Those are three questions. I’m writing them down so I get to all of them.
With regard to the conference, we do have delegations of Israelis and Palestinian business people coming, so that’s good. Despite calls for a boycott, we basically have every Arab country coming. We have all the Gulf countries. We have Jordan, Egypt, Morocco. We also have, the fact that all these Gulf countries come because they disagree on a few things these days, I think that’s actually a very good sign, too, that they’re all willing to work together to do this.
We have some leading business people from throughout the world. We have representatives from the G7 countries there. So we’ve got a very, very good attendance on this and we’re very, very encouraged by that.
Again, the fact that so many people are showing up to try to figure out how do we come up with a plan forward for the Palestinian people, I think that’s a very, very good sign of success.
Keep in mind, the work that we’ve done over the last year, we’ve had extensive feedback from the Israeli and Palestinian business community as well as all the leading experts on development aid and how to do this. So we do believe that, again, using this as a format to, a forum to bring people together to hopefully discuss the ideas, and then to refine them. I think that’s success.
Look for the Palestinians, I think that they’re missing an opportunity to engage with this. I think this is a very, very strong package that’s been put together. Fighting it instead of embracing it I think is a strategic mistake. But again, I think they were geared up to reject anything we put out before they even knew what it was.
So the feedback I’ve gotten is that people have been very pleasantly surprised with how detailed it is and how robust it is, and I do think there’s a lot of enthusiasm in the community in the West Bank and Gaza to find ways to see if we could ever find a political solution so that this could be implemented.
So with regards to that, we think that this workshop, the fact that it’s happening, the fact that it’s going to be attended as well, I think the content that we’ll discuss will make it a very, very big success.
I should also mention, also we have representatives from China and Russia coming as well, from Japan. So we really have a very robust representation which is very, very important. And people have been very intrigued.
With regards to political plan, again, we’ll get to that when we’re ready. I think the goal for the next few days is to focus on the economic aspects of what is possible if there is peace.
And keep in mind right now the Palestinians receive more donor aid per capita I think than any group in history, and I think the money they’ve gotten over the years has been tremendous. But it hasn’t gone into creating an environment that’s allowing people to live better lives.
What we want to show is what an evenly distributed economy could look like and figure out how we could do something that will actually lead to people improving their lives and heading in a different direction.
With regards to a political election year. Again, one of the things I love about working for President Trump is that he doesn’t usually, at least not as far as I’ve seen, he doesn’t really take political aspects into his considerations. He really focuses on what he thinks is right, what he thinks is wrong, and then he’ll make decisions.
Again, I think the President will decide what he thinks is right to try to push forward this conflict to help both the Israeli and the Palestinian people.
Moderator: Thank you.
Our next question is from Camile Tawil of Al Sharq al Awsat.
Question: Hi, good morning.
Mr. Kushner you spoke earlier about critics of your plan. Some of this criticism, some of the critics suspect that it aims at ending the issue of Palestinian refugees by pumping billions of dollars into neighboring countries such as Jordan and Lebanon just to keep the Palestinian refugees where they are and ending the issue of the right to return.
Are they right? Aren’t you hoping that by giving all this money to neighboring countries you aim at ending the right to return of Palestinians from neighboring countries?
Mr. Kushner: I appreciate the question.
We’ll get into the political aspects when we get into the political plan, but what I will just say is this. Look, this conflict has grown totally stale and you have a lot of these issues that we’ve been discussing for 25 years that quite frankly nobody’s gotten a breakthrough to.
So what we’re just trying to do is get people to look at this a little bit differently and through a different paradigm. Again, there’s a lot of traditional thinking on this that has not led to progress. So what we’re hoping is that we can give a framework that gets everyone excited about what a future can look like, then through that lens we’re able to deal with some of these thorny political issues. But again, what I’ll tell you is that people have been discussing this for a long time and nobody’s come up with a solution. We viewed our job as trying to come up with a framework that gives it the best opportunity to maybe have success, but we fully recognize what a difficult situation this is and we’re doing our best to come up with something that we think does the best for all the different parties involved.
Moderator: We have a question from Hussain Barmao with Al Quds Al-Arabi. Thank you.
Question: Hello, Mr. Kushner.
In my editorial today in Al Quds Al-Arabi, I put a question to you. As the main engineer of the “Deal of the Century” as it is called, would you expect the Palestinians to meet all these financial and economical promises after the political upheaval of recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital? Freezing the U.S. financial aid to them. Working on stopping the United Nations Relief and Work Agency for Palestine Refugees and supporting Israel in the United Nations?
Mr. Kushner: I’m sorry, so what is the question then?
Question: The question, do you think that the Palestinians after all this, all these political issues with the American administration, do you think they can believe the economical and financial promises coming tomorrow and the day after in the Manama meeting?
Mr. Kushner: One thing I hope that the Palestinian people see is that President Trump hopefully has more credibility than a lot of leaders who have engaged in that region in a long time. They may not have liked his Jerusalem decision, but he kept his promise. He made a promise to do something and he did it. With regards to UNRWA and the funding for the Palestinians, again, after we made that decision we had a lot of criticism of the President and his decision and our country from the Palestinian leadership. The President’s view is very simple. Our aid is not an entitlement, so if you criticize our country we’re not giving you money. So he stopped it in that regard.
Again, I think that’s something that every country has a prerogative to do. So I think that’s great.
With regards to support for Israel. Again, we do support Israel. Israel is a great ally. They’re I think maybe the only democracy in the region, and a very, very strong security partner for America. We don’t pretend that that’s not true. But I think that what we’ve shown through that thing is that we say what we mean and we mean what we say, and that when we make a promise we do it.
President Trump also did say that he wants to come up with a fair solution for the Palestinian people. He wants to see this conflict resolved. He wants to help them improve their lives. And since he’s kept every other promise he’s made I would hope that they can take him at his word on that as well.
Look, with regards to the Palestinian people, I feel terribly. They’ve been lied to by everyone for a very, very long time. So in terms of what they can believe and who they can believe, that will really be up to them. But I do hope whether they like the decisions that President Trump has taken or they don’t like the decisions he’s taken, at least they know that when he says something he means it and he follows through.
With regards to the economic workshop that we’re doing, there has not been any promises made. What we laid out was a set of ideas. Again, everyone gets very jumpy on this file, and they try to run and say that the world’s ending and the sky is falling. But what we wanted to do was inject these ideas into the discussion and then what we’ll do is we’ll work with everyone. We’ll get reviews. We’ll get feedback from people. Then hopefully we can work with the different countries of the world to finalize a joint plan.
But I think that we can all agree that the status quo is not working. It is not going in a good direction for the Palestinian people. This started before President Trump and myself and our team got here. Again, if we don’t resolve this I think that you’ll look out a couple of years and I think it’s going to continue to get worse.
So again, what we’ve done is we’ve created a framework that we think can improve the lives of the Palestinian people. It is only achievable if there is a peace agreement. A peace agreement can only be achieved if both sides make compromises. But again, there’s a lot of things that we agree on together and we will be putting forward those ideas.
What I would just tell the Palestinian people is look at the details we’ve put out, keep an open mind, and again, one thing with President Trump is hopefully they see that when he gives his word on something, he follows through and you can trust him.
Moderator: We have a question from Jayyab Abusafia with Sky News. Please go ahead.
Question: Hello, good morning.
My question is on the plan. If this will be the end of the two-state solution? If America still believes the two-state solution, is it viable?
And my other question, just a recent survey in the Palestinian territory said that more than 80 percent of the Palestinians support the PA by quoting the Manama Workshop. What’s your take on that?
Mr. Kushner: With regard to the two-state solution, I have not used the term two-state and I have not used the term one-state. What we’ve worked on — it means different things to different people. What we’ve done, again, that’s a very traditional label that’s used in these discussions, and using that label because it means different things to both parties, has not necessarily led to a breakthrough.
So what we’ve been working on is a very detailed plan. There’s a lot of components that would go into the interactions between an Israeli and a Palestinian. What we’re looking to do with that is put out a really in-depth document that details how they can interact with each other, and then we can get to the labels at the end.
I think be a little patient. You’ll wait and see what we put forward. But I do think it’s something that is workable for both sides, that hopefully gives them a basis for negotiation so that both sides can have security, both sides can have prosperity, they can co-exist together, and we can put our energy towards creating a brighter future as opposed to figuring out how to resist progress.
Again, it’s a very complicated situation because there are domestic politics which obviously have been driven over time, but both balconies have their domestic politics and the Israelis have their domestic politics.
With regards to the 80 percent support to boycott, look, I don’t think 80 percent of the people have actually read the plan yet. We just released it Saturday. I’m very curious what they see after they do it. I believe that the workshop has been explained to the public as a plan to liquidate the Palestinian cause. I think that’s not what it is. I believe that this workshop is a way to enhance the lives of the Palestinian people and hopefully the more they have knowledge to what we’re putting forward, the more that their point of view will change.
So look, we live in a day and age where people have smart phones, people have access to the internet. We’re going to be live streaming the whole conference. Again, the amount of internet activity we’re seeing on the economic vision that we’ve put out in the West Bank and Gaza is quite substantial. I think that’s a very good sign. It shows that people are looking at the ideas for themselves. They’re reading it, they’re assessing it, and hopefully they’ll form their own points of view.
Again, the easiest thing to do is nothing, and we could move on to other files. The President really would like to see progress made so he’s asked us to work in what the best ideas we can come up with are and then put them out and then see if it takes.
But we recognize what a difficult solution it is. But I will say that boycotting a conference and people are putting forward ideas on how to improve your lives. I don’t see that as a terribly constructive position, and I do think that a lot of the people that we talk to both in the financial, economic and diplomatic communities agree.
Moderator: Thank you.
The next question is Khaled [Jakhub] Oweis of The National.
Question: Thank you, Mr. Kushner, for talking with us.
My question is the Supreme Leader of Iran, Khomeini, is probably looking tomorrow at Bahrain and watching from Tehran and thinking how am I going to sabotage this and maybe I don’t need to because it might fail.
How do you see Iran’s role in this and its ability to influence the Palestinians, especially Hamas in Gaza and basically derail the plan even on the economic side.
Mr. Kushner: Look, my sense is that the best thing that the region can do to combat Iran is to all come together, to have Israel and the Gulf states and everyone resolve their issues with the Palestinians and all be unified as a joint security and economic bloc. I think that would be the best way to create a long-term stable resistance to Iran’s aggression and mischief throughout the entire region.
Look, I think that what they’ve done is they’re focusing inward now. I think that they have a lot of issues based on the sanctions that have come on to them which have been brought on by their own actions, if they were to stop with their external militias causing problems for their neighbors, if they would stop enriching and trying to get nuclear bombs, and if they would instead of saying death to America, death to Israel, say great life and prosperity for the Iranian people, I think they would find that that would be a much more productive way for them to be.
But again, I will say if you look at what’s changed in that region over time, you have a lot of people that want to see the Israeli-Palestinian issue resolved. The biggest problem in that region right now by far, is Iran. We saw the second biggest issue in that region as ISIS and America’s worked with all of our partners in that region and we’ve made great progress there.
The third biggest issue is extremism and the spread of it. I think that we’ve all worked together to figure out how do we combat extremism. And I think that this is the fourth issue in the region, but it’s an issue that if we can resolve I think would make everyone stronger.
A big part of why we put out this vision was we want people to think about what the future can look like. The Middle East, quite frankly, has been stuck for the last 15 years and what’s happened is it’s held back. There’s so much money spent on munitions, there’s a lot of corruption in different places. What we want to be able to do is figure out what a framework for the future could look like.
But if you want to push back against Iran, the best thing we can do is have a normalization of relations between all the different countries in that region, resolve the Palestinian issue in a fair and just way, and let everyone move forward.
I just think that again, we have to keep proportionality. And I also think that we have to just be reflective, too, and not just say well we’ve been saying these same positions for 25 years. Look the Arab Peace Initiative was a very noble, good effort, but if that will resolve peace and that’s a position that’s going to work then they would have made peace I guess 17 years ago.
So the reality is if you want to make peace, both side have to compromise and quite frankly, if somebody is spending the effort to put forward a very detailed proposal for how to improve the lives of your people, I think that boycotting and saying things like have been said is just not terribly constructive.
We operate here in the real world, and in the real world we’re focused on solutions and it’s very easy to say what you’re against, but it’s very hard to say what you’re for, and we’ve tried to say what we think is a good solution. Quite frankly, in the two years that I’ve been doing this I haven’t seen anyone else put forward anything that’s constructive or going to leap forward to a good solution, any of the people who criticize.
So I think that with regards to Iran, I think again anything that they can do to sabotage, they’ll be doing anyway. We take that into account. But Iran is not looking to make the lives of the Palestinian people better. They’re not looking to make the lives of the Saudi people better. They’re not looking to make the lives of the Emirate people better. They’re not looking to make the lives of the Israeli people better. But I do think that the common thread, if you think about the last 70 years, a lot of these countries have used hatred of Israel as a way to deflect from a lot of their own internal shortcomings and a lot of their own internal problems. They were able to blame all the problems on Israel when in fact a lot of the problems have to come with the lack of economic opportunity that a lot of people had in their own countries.
I think we’re in a different phase now where a lot of countries in the region are focused on how do we make the lives of our people better and how do we help them achieve more prosperity. I think that’s what’s happening in a lot of the region, whether it’s Egypt, Jordan, the Gulf countries. I think they’re focused now on how do they improve the lives of their citizens. If you look at Iran, they’re looking at how do we export terror and repress our citizens. I think that’s not a very constructive way to go.
Again, if everyone focused on how do you make the lives of your people better, then I think that we’ll have a lot of prosperity and harmony in the region and that’s what we have to all aim for.
One last question.
Moderator: Our last question will go to Yusef al Ortaz of Al Quds Al-Arabi.
Question: Hi. Actually I have a question regarding did you officially invite the Palestinian Authority? And if not, how can you implement the result of this workshop on Gaza and West Bank without participation of the Palestinian [part]?
Mr. Kushner: Again, we sent out invites to the business community. A lot of the business community was told not to attend by the leadership. Again, they rely on the leadership for a lot of their livelihood, so some rejected. A lot of them very bravely still came because they think that it’s important to engage.
We did not invite the Palestinian leadership and we did not invite the Israeli leadership. Mostly because the Palestinian leadership said they didn’t want to come. If they wanted to come, we would have sent them an invitation. And we felt like if the Palestinian leadership wasn’t there, then we shouldn’t have the Israeli leadership. So we wanted to show balance in that regard.
With regards to implementation, the good news is we have 25 years of real life scenario to see how money’s been wasted, misappropriated, or used in ways that have not achieved the correct results. You also have some examples of how it has been implemented correctly. So part of what we’ve put together as a government structure for how this could be implemented and some of it would happen through the PA, but some if it will also happen through a multilateral institution because we want to make sure that the money’s getting to the people.
Look, if you look at the status quo, there are some people who are fine with the status quo. I think they’re doing fine, their friends are doing fine, their families are doing fine. But even with all the aid and all the largesse that’s gone to this region, it has not trickled down to the people. You have a situation that quite frankly is not a sustainable one.
So we have ideas on how to do proper implementation, but again, we will not be implementing this economic vision without having a peace agreement. The notion of what we are putting forward is to get people to agree on what could happen after there’s a peace agreement. And quite frankly, I do think it’s an important notion. Because you do have a situation where I would imagine leadership is to some degree concerned about what would happen in the event that there was a peace agreement. Right now they have a ton of donor nations that give money every year, that sustain their operation. I do think there would be fear that if they actually resolved this conflict that some of that money would dry up. And again, they would move on to some of the other causes that are very worthy in the world that we have.
So the hope of this is to show that if we can get people to agree on what a framework could look like after a peace agreement and get people to commit to that, hopefully that gives a lot more courage to leadership and a lot more comfort to leadership. I say comfort, not courage. It hopefully gives a lot more comfort to leadership to try to make a deal so that we can move forward after.
Thank you guys very much. And I’ll just say one final message is that I really do hope people download the documents. We have the summary document and the in-depth document which has all the project detail. Keep an open mind on it.
What I will say to you is that what has been tried in the past has not worked. We are where we are for that reason.
The goal of Bahrain is to get people to hopefully look at this problem through a different lens. I think people are resistant to it because it’s different, and I think that should not necessarily be the right way. Again, if we do the same things — I find repeatedly on this file that we get criticized from people who have worked on this before for not doing it the same way that they’ve done it in the past, when their approach in the past hasn’t worked.
We’re trying to bring a different approach. That’s why we’re sequencing it this way. I think what we’ve laid out is very substantive, very detailed, and I do think it would work if implemented. So what we want to do is get people to agree on what an end game can look like, and then hopefully we’ll have a political discussion and see if we can resolve some of the issues that have been unresolved.
But I hope you’ll all acknowledge that again, to make peace both sides have to show flexibility and compromise, and we expect that that is what hopefully will happen when we work on the political solution. But what we’ve been trying to do is create a framework where we can figure out how to make the Palestinian people’s lives better. That’s been a very important directive that we’ve gotten from President Trump.
Thank you guys very much, and good luck with everything, and hopefully you’ll watch the workshop closely and we look forward to it being a big success. Thank you.