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What Resulted From Kushner's Conference About Ending The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict


The president's son-in-law and top adviser, Jared Kushner, faced a lot of skepticism heading into a two-day conference about ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israeli and Palestinian leaders were not there. The guest list did include potential investors. Kushner hopes they will give $50 billion for economic development in Gaza and the West Bank.


JARED KUSHNER: What I found is the more I've dealt with the traditional policy community on this, people are just stuck in a paradigm that never seems to move forward. And so by bringing finance ministers in the business community, I was able to find a lot more people who see this problem the same way that I do, which is that it actually is a solvable problem economically.

SHAPIRO: The conference ended in Bahrain earlier today. And to tell us whether Kushner has won anyone over, we are joined by David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He was invited to the conference as an observer.


DAVID MAKOVSKY: Delighted to be with you, Ari.

SHAPIRO: OK, Kushner says policy experts are stuck in a paradigm that never seems to move forward. Do you think this two-day conference did move anything forward?

MAKOVSKY: It did not change the paradigm. Ironically, the Trump administration, Jared Kushner and his critics share a common view that when it comes to the Middle East, it's either all or nothing. And sadly, though, whenever it's all or nothing, it's nothing. They rejuvenated enthusiasm, I think, here in Bahrain among the Gulf business community for an issue that has been relegated to the margins because the headlines have not focused on this issue. And I give them credit for that. But they basically accept the old paradigm.

SHAPIRO: Some of the items on this agenda seemed unorthodox, let's say. I mean, for example, the president of FIFA, the soccer organization, talking about how sports can play a role in the peace process. I mean, is that really the sort of thing that's going to get Palestinians and Israelis to the negotiating table, to a deal?

MAKOVSKY: Well, I think some of those sessions were used to show in other countries there has been economic transformation. I mean, I think they could have used a more Palestinian-specific approach. But I don't want to nit-pick in a way that I think that there was some value in generating enthusiasm for the Palestinian economy in a way that hadn't been done...


MAKOVSKY: ...By others.

SHAPIRO: Kushner says the political solution is coming. And this first part of the conversation was just about the economic solution. But the political proposal he's going to make will undoubtedly, whatever it contains, be much more controversial. Do you see a value in having an economic conversation without the political element being part of that discussion?

MAKOVSKY: Look; I think you're hitting the nail on the head here. He doesn't have the political part. If they would have had a deal that he thought was acceptable, believe me; they would have put forward the full package. The fact that they did not is a sign to me that go with the part that's easiest to put forward now because everybody wants a better quality of life for the Palestinians. There's no argument there. But it's all contingent about accepting the political part, which in my view is going to hit a wall.

SHAPIRO: Did any donors actually commit money? Were there commitments made at this conference?

MAKOVSKY: No, they - look; they were careful not to make this a pledging conference. And to be fair to the administration, that was probably smart because the Arab side would say, hey, we don't know what the other half of the plan is.


MAKOVSKY: You're telling us 173 projects. But on the five core issues that we all care about, you're not telling us that.

SHAPIRO: You know, Kushner came into this conference asking for people to give money to Palestinian causes after his father-in-law, President Trump, dramatically cut funding for Palestinians. Does that create a credibility problem?

MAKOVSKY: Yes. But that gets back to my point, which is that because it's all or nothing, it's really somewhat of a straitjacket. The president's approach of maximal pressure means that he cannot seem to do the economic stabilization measures because that's against the philosophy of the administration. So he's kind of locked in to this all-or-nothing school.

SHAPIRO: David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, thanks for speaking with us today.

MAKOVSKY: Delighted to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.