Are Jared Kushner's West Bank donations the Trump team's latest conflict of interest?


President-elect Donald Trump's business career will likely bring an unprecedented number of conflicts of interest into the Oval Office. However it became clear this week there's another conflict of interest might come from a different member of Trump's team: son-in-law Jared Kushner.

In an interview after the election with the New York Times, Trump posited Kushner could play a role in the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict in Trump's administration. When asked if Kushner could help with Trump's desire to "be the one that made peace with Israel and the Palestinians," Trump said,  "Well, I think he'd be very good at it. I mean he knows it so well. He knows the region, knows the people, knows the players."

Some recently uncovered donations by Kushner's family foundation, the Seryl and Charles Kushner Family Foundation, however, show Kushner may not be the impartial observer needed for these contentious negotiations.  Kushner serves as a director for the foundation, along with his parents and three siblings.

$58,500 in donations

Nasser Nasser/AP

IRS records for Kushner's foundation, first uncovered by Israeli newspaper Haaretz, indicate the foundation donated $58,500 toward West Bank settlements between 2011 and 2013.

As detailed by the Washington Post, the donations were primarily made to schools and religious yeshivas located in Jewish settlements outside the Green Line marking Israel's official border. The donations, all of which are legal donations to registered charities, include the following: 

• $38,000 to American Friends of Bet El, benefitting a well-established settlement outside of the Palestine city Ramallah;

• $15,000 to the Etzion Foundation, supporting facilities in a cluster of settlements between Jerusalem and Palestine-owned Bethlehem;

• $5,000 to Ohr Torah Stone, a settlement founded by U.S.-born Rabbi Shlomo Riskin. 

Most controversially, the Washington Post reported the foundation also gave $500 in 2012 to the Od Yosef Chai yeshiva in Yitzhar, which is home to violent extremists responsible for "violent attacks" against both Palestinians and Israeli security forces.

The donations make up a small part of the $8.5 million that was donated by the foundation in total during that same period. According to the Chicago Tribunethe foundation's other donations include gifts to Israel's national Holocaust memorial, Israeli hospitals and cultural institutions.

West Bank settlements: a divisive policy

Majdi Mohammed/AP

The foundation's donations are contentious because of their specific support for Israel, which could sway Kushner's biases during any negotiations, but also because of the specific nature of West Bank settlements themselves. The settlements, the Washington Post notes, have been specifically condemned as "illegitimate and counterproductive to peace" by every U.S. presidential administration since 1967, as they fight against the possibility of a contiguous Palestine state that would allow for a two-state solution between the warring nations.

Secretary of State John Kerry spoke Sunday about the growing prevalence of these settlements, which now have a population of nearly 400,000 (up from 110,000 in 1993), at the Brookings Institution symposium on Israel, the Saban Forum.

"Leaders in Israel are fond of saying settlements are not the cause of the conflict," Kerry said in a speech at the symposium. "I am not contending they are. But I cannot accept the notion they don't affect the peace process, that they aren't a barrier to peace.

"If you have a whole bunch of people who are strategically locating outposts and settlements in an area so that there will not be a contiguous Palestinian state, they are doing it to be an obstacle to peace."

Trump's incoming administration, however, has signaled they may be poised to offer a different opinion on the long-standing U.S. fight against these settlements. Trump's real estate lawyer and Israel adviser David Friedman has raised the possibility of reconsidering the "two-state formula" — which makes sense, considering that Friedman leads the American Friends of Bet El Yeshiva, which received donations from the Kushner foundation.

Jose Luis Magana/AP

As a result of these donations and Kushner's family's long-standing support of Israel (Kushner's father, Charles, has ties to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu), Palestinians are wary of the role that Kushner will play.

"I am in doubt," Aref Assaf, president of the American Arab Forum in Paterson, told the Record. "From what we know of [Kushner], he has not shown a deep understanding of the conflict and respect for Palestinian aspirations. He can't just start reading Middle East 101 now."

Diana Buttu, a Palestinian political analyst and former adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, went one step further. "If anyone was foolish enough to believe that a Trump administration might succeed in negotiating a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, [the donations are] further evidence of their delusions," she said to the Chicago Tribune.