On Monday, White House senior advisor Jared Kushner spoke to a group of congressional interns as part of an ongoing, off-the-record summer lecture series. During the question-and-answer portion of the event, Kushner may have inadvertently offered some insight into the negotiating tactics he is using in the Middle East.
Prior to Kushner’s talk, Katie Patru, the deputy staff director for Member Services, Outreach & Communications, told the assembled interns, “To record today’s session would be such a breach of trust, from my opinion. This town is full of leakers and everyone knows who they are, and no one trusts them. In this business your reputation is everything, I’ve been on the hill for 15 years. I’ve sat in countless meetings with members of congress where important decisions were being made. During all those years in all those meetings, I never once leaked to a reporter. …. If someone in your office has asked you to break our protocol and give you a recording so they can leak it, as a manager, that bothers me at my core.”
WIRED has obtained a recording of Kushner’s talk, which lasted for just under an hour in total.
The speech—which was peppered with self-deprecating jokes as reported by Foreign Policy—offered a rare insight into the man who President Trump has tasked with criminal justice reform, managing the opioid crisis, updating the government’s technological systems, and creating peace in the Middle East, among other tasks. It’s the latter, though, that’s both the most deeply personal for Kushner (a staunch supporter of Israel) and that prompted him to embark on his longest, most rambling answer during yesterday’s question-and-answer session.
While the recording doesn’t catch the entirety of the question, it appears to center on how Kushner plans to negotiate peace between Israelis and Palestinians, as well as why he believes he’ll be successful where every other administration has failed. He doesn’t directly answer either question, but he does reveal that, from his extensive research, he’s learned that “not a whole lot has been accomplished over the last 40 or 50 years.” He also notes that he’s spoken to “a lot of people,” which has taught him that “this is a very emotionally charged situation.”
Later in the clip, Kushner expresses frustration at others’ attempts to teach him about the delicate situation he’s been inserted into, saying, “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.” He then goes on to lament the press’s treatment of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a family friend who he’s known since Kushner’s childhood.
Kushner’s dismissal of the nuances of the conflict has already been an issue. Last month, when Kushner met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, a Palestinian official told Haaretz that Kushner “sounded like Netanyahu’s advisers and not like fair arbiters” and that they were “greatly disappointed” after the meeting. Abbas himself was “reportedly furious.”
Finally, Kushner closed with the following statement of reassurance: “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.”
You can read and listen to Kushner’s answer in its entirety below. WIRED has reached out to the White House for comment, and will update if and when we receive a response.
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 dialogue 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 okay with, and we talked with the Palestinians the whole time to try to get their viewpoint on it.
And then ultimately they said, “Okay, we took down the metal detectors but there’s still a bridge up somewhere.” And they said, “Okay, 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.