Palestinian Authority employees are now subsisting on less than half their normal salaries as the PA and Israel continue their standoff over partial tax transfers. For the West Bank Palestinian leadership, it was a particularly inopportune time for documents to surface showing that in 2017, amid another economic downturn, PA cabinet ministers had voted to raise their own salaries by 67 percent with the approval of President Mahmoud Abbas. The leaks, which emerged Thursday, sparked outrage in the West Bank, and rightfully so.

It must be grating for the average Palestinian to watch top officials enrich themselves while the PA — the West Bank’s largest employer — is unable to pay out full salaries to thousands of civil servants. Worst of all, this is not an aberration but a reflection of the PA’s own deeply corrupt political culture. Indeed, the question of pay raises is only the tip of the iceberg. The current economic crisis is superficially about the transfer of PA tax revenues, which Israel is only partially handing over to the Ramallah-based government in violation of the Paris Protocol. However, Israel’s pretext for deducting payments is a policy known as martyr payments, the PA’s disbursement of stipends to imprisoned terrorists and their families. Punishing the PA for the martyr’s fund is not worth upsetting a delicate security situation, and Israel is engaging in brinkmanship it may soon regret. Still, the payments are an odious practice deserving of universal condemnation.

In an interview with Axios over the weekend, Senior American Presidential Adviser Jared Kushner cast doubts on the Palestinians’ collective capacity for self-government. “The hope,” he stated, “is that, they [the Palestinians], over time can become capable of governing.” He deflected when on the question of whether Palestinians could ever expect to live free of Israeli military occupation, but Kushner’s earlier dismissal of a two-state solution speaks for itself.

Kushner’s comments were rebuked as racist and colonialist for suggesting the Palestinians were inherently incapable of running a country. Yet as this week’s leaks demonstrate, the Palestinians’ record of self-governance, however limited, raises legitimate concerns for what a future independent Palestinian state would look like. Perhaps Kushner’s criticisms could have been framed more diplomatically, but the substance of his comments isn’t really the issue here.

The problem with Kushner’s outlook, and the Trump team’s worldview more broadly, is twofold. First, they are employing an unrealistic standard to a prospective Palestinian state, which would not be workable if applied to some of the United States’ own allies. Second, it should be clear to anyone familiar with this American administration’s policies toward the Palestinians and the personal views of top officials working on the Israel-Palestine portfolio that superficially valid critiques of the PA and other factions are being leveraged in service of an ideological agenda. The viability of a future Palestine should matter to anyone who seeks a two-state solution, but that’s not what Kushner and his colleagues are going after.

During his interview with Axios, Kushner described the Palestinians as living under an “authoritative [sic] regime.” He’s right; neither the PA nor the de facto Hamas government in Gaza are anything close to democratic. This has been well documented by outside observers including Human Rights Watch, which released a report last week detailing the widespread use of arbitrary arrest and torture by the PA and Hamas.

Of course, that only makes the Palestinian leadership like any number of autocratic governments the United States continues to make common cause with in the Middle East and beyond. The right to self-determination has never hinged on the quality of ones’ (often unelected) leaders. More to the point, Israel is not going to “fix” the problems of Palestinian politics because that has never been the reason for Israeli rule in the occupied territories. Even if the Israelis wanted to dispense wisdom about good governance, there is no reason Palestinians would be receptive to taking lessons from a country that they justifiably view as an oppressive force in their daily lives and with which they share a long and painful history. Having cut all funding for the Palestinians, the United States has lost significant political credibility on the ground, along with any practical leverage.

PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh ultimately pledged to repeal the pay raises for top Palestinian officials after this week’s revelations. United Nations envoy Nickolay Mladenov deserves some credit in making this happen. Mladenov tweeted in support of Palestinians outraged by the raises and spoke with Shtayyeh before the prime minister backtracked on the decision. This doesn’t mean Palestinian Authority leaders will never again seek to line their own pockets at the expense of their constituents, nor does it make the PA a shining example of liberal democracy. But it’s a small victory demonstrating that a degree of change can be achieved through third parties the Palestinians trust and who are willing to act in good faith. It is one thing if Israel or the Trump administration admonish the Palestinians; quite another if the reprimand comes from the European Union, UN, or Arab states, all of which can sincerely claim they are working toward a two-state solution and an end to the occupation.

The second issue here is that the Trump team have proven themselves to be ideologues pursuing polices that go beyond even the right-wing Israeli government’s own agenda. As private citizens, Jared Kushner and Ambassador David Friedman both funded West Bank settlements, and it seems neither of them have checked their personal beliefs at the door of public service. Then there is Jason Greenblatt, the American envoy who has held up the radical settlement in Hebron and its spokesman Yishai Fleisher as shining examples of coexistence. This is, of course, the administration that slashed American assistance not only to the Palestinian Authority, but to all projects in the West Bank and Gaza, including people-to-people exchanges for children and East Jerusalem hospitals outside PA purview. This suggests nothing less than a total disregard for Palestinian welfare. Frankly, I don’t think it truly matters to the Trump team whether or not the PA is a model democracy or a dictatorship or whether its officials are honest or corrupt. In the past two years, the U.S. has made explicit its intention to tear down any and all Palestinian institutions, whether or not they are related to the PA, and attempt to remake them in a manner subservient to a one-state vision for Israel. This is what is behind the administration’s desperate search for any Palestinian businessmen, no matter how marginal, to attend the upcoming economic workshop in Bahrain. It is also the reason why it’s difficult to take seriously figures on the Israeli right who, on the one hand voice valid criticisms of Palestinian leaders, while also advancing a Greater Israel ideology independent of the quality of PA governance.

There really isn’t much that was inaccurate in the criticisms of the PA Jared Kushner put forward in his Axios interview. But the problem is the messenger, not the message. In the end, Washington’s condemnations of the Palestinian leadership will remain fairly meaningless as long as Trump officials come to the table with ulterior motives.