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Examining Jared Kushner's Chances At Achieving A Mideast Peace Solution

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Earlier this week, Jared Kushner seems to have said what he really was not supposed to say, that there might not be a way to bring peace to the Middle East. Kushner is senior adviser to the White House, and among the many things he's been tasked with is pushing for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. In an off-the-record talk on Monday, he said, quote, "We are trying to work with the parties very quietly to see if there is a solution. And there may be no solution."

Aaron David Miller was a State Department peace negotiator. I asked him if these comments reveal something about the Trump administration's thinking on the Middle East.

AARON DAVID MILLER: The Trump administration has actually been pretty disciplined on this issue and has imposed a sort of, you know, zone of radio silence on their tactics, thinking, strategy on the pursuit of Israeli-Palestinian peace. And while the Kushner interview didn't reveal the details of their approach, it did - it seemed to me - reflect certain points about Mr. Kushner's mindset.

I should say in the interest of full disclosure, I met Mr. Kushner only once. And I said to him, having spent most of my adult professional life chasing the holy grail of Arab-Israeli peace, that I wish my father-in-law had as much confidence in me...

CHANG: (Laughter).

MILLER: ...As Mr. Kushner's appears to have in him because he's given him mission impossible, or at least mission implausible. And he laughed. And we left it at that.

CHANG: You wrote in Politico that Kushner did not mention the two-state solution in any part of these particular remarks that were recorded. This is the idea that Palestinians should get their own state and live alongside Israel in peace. And it's been basically American dogma for decades, right? Could you see this White House giving up on that possible solution?

MILLER: I mean, the president - Mr. Kushner's father-in-law has been very ambiguous, one-state, two-states, whatever the parties agreed to. But it is curious. Mr. Kushner, in his briefing to the interns, does refer to the difficulty of finding the right end state, I believe, but it's very short on details. Does he acknowledge the fact that the two-state solution, however imperfect, is probably the least worst solution to the conflict?

CHANG: Elsewhere in the tape, Kushner also mentioned that the variables in this longstanding conflict have actually not changed much as Americans have tried to broker a peace deal over years and years and years. Well, you know, you were there for some of that. What do you think?

MILLER: The variables have gotten worse. The regional situation is chaotic. You have four Arab states melting down. Iran is rising. You have two leaders, Mahmoud Abbas and Benjamin Netanyahu, who, rather than masters of their political constituencies, are prisoners of their own ideologies. You have a divided Palestinian national movement, Hamas and Fatah, that basically looks like Noah's Ark.

There are two of everything, two constitutions, two sets of security services, two visions of where Palestine is supposed to be and what it's supposed to be. So I think, by and large, the climate for peacemaking, I would argue, is worse than in any time that I was in the biz from the late '70s through '03.

CHANG: There was one point in these taped remarks where Kushner seems to want to grab some credit for a recent water deal that was signed between the Israelis, the Palestinians and the Jordanians. It was a deal that has Israel, basically, providing more water to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which are really parched. Do you think this deal shows a White House that is more innovative than its predecessors?

MILLER: Well, the Israeli-Palestinian water negotiations, frankly, are probably the one lone survivor of the wreckage of the Oslo peace process.

CHANG: And this is the Oslo peace process from 1993?

MILLER: Exactly. Israeli and Palestinian water negotiations have proven to be quite pragmatic. They share common aquafers. What it shows is that the parties are ready - let's call it tiny steps for tiny feet. But it's a far cry from that to deal conclusively with what Mr. Trump wants, the ultimate deal, a conflict-ending resolution between Israelis and Palestinians, which has proven so elusive over the years and an end to all claims and conflicts. That may be in a galaxy far, far away.

CHANG: Aaron David Miller is a former State Department peace negotiator. His latest book is called "The End Of Greatness." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.