Barak Ravid of Israel's Channel 10 news
Featured

Trump's "raft of calls" before Jerusalem speech

Protesters rally in Istanbul after Friday prayers. (AP's Lefteris Pitarakis)

New details President Trump's calls to the region before recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel:

Israeli and U.S. officials say Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu and Trump spoke by phone at least twice in the 10 days before Wednesday's announcement. A White House official said that conversation was part of "a raft of calls to regional leaders" on Tuesday, including four Arab leaders, to "get reaction ... and keep regional partners informed."

  • Israeli officials say Netanyahu told Trump in their last phone call, on Tuesday, that by taking this step "he is making history." The officials added that Netanyahu gave Trump his commitment not to make any change in the status quo in the holy places in Jerusalem, mainly the Temple Mount, or Haram Al-Sharif.
  • Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, is supposed to arrive in the U.S. in the next few weeks for a medical procedure. Trump wants to use this opportunity to see him and try to defuse the crisis, and invited Abbas to the White House. Officials said the invitation was general, and no date was set.

P.S. A senior Palestinian official in Abbas's ruling Fatah party told Haaretz that Vice President Pence, due to visit the region later this month, "is unwelcome in Palestine."

Featured

What to expect next after Trump's Jerusalem move

Palestinians burn posters of Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and Donald Trump during a protest against the U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, in Gaza City Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017. Photo: Khalil Hamra / AP

Domestic politics drove President Trump's potentially costly decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital: Even senior White House officials said they're "prepared for derailment" of Middle East peace efforts — temporarily, they hope.

Barak Ravid of Israel's Channel 10 News, an Axios contributor, gives me this day-after scouting report from Tel Aviv:

  1. The Israeli government is jubilant. For Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, this is the first big diplomatic achievement since Trump entered the Oval Office. But this is also a big political win for Netanyahu, who is entangled in police investigations over alleged corruption and has taken a hit in the latest polls.
  2. Palestinians are depressed. President Abbas managed to mobilize the entire Arab world and part of the Western world in an attempt to stop Trump's move, but failed. Some unrest is already felt in Palestinian cities, but the big thing to look at is what happens after the Friday prayers.
  3. Putting aside the symbolism of the U.S. recognition and the emotional reactions from both parties, a careful reading of Trump's speech shows one very important message regarding possible U.S. peace plan. Trump said he is going to do everything in his power to help the sides in getting a peace agreement and added: "Without question, Jerusalem is one of the most sensitive issues in those talks." So the future of Jerusalem, its borders and sovereignty will be on the table in every Trump-sponsored peace talk.
  4. Whether it is even possible to renew peace talks after Trump's speech remains to be seen.

Expecting a backlash, the State Department is asking Israel to restrain its official response "and is weighing the potential threat to U.S. facilities and people," according to a document seen by Reuters.

  • From talking points for diplomats at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv to convey to Israeli officials: "We expect there to be resistance to this news in the Middle East and around the world."
  • Be smart: Trump's defiant decision reflects the focus on his domestic base (including evangelical Christians), regardless of international repercussions, that led him to renounce the Paris climate accord.

L.A. Times: "In his view, he is the president who pushes through toward 'historic' change while those around him urge equivocation. He is the president who bluntly scorns the judgment of elites. And he is the president who tallies 'promises kept.'"

Featured

Why the White House doesn’t think Jerusalem move will kill peace plan

Palestinians burn a poster of Trump in protest of his Jerusalem decision. Photo: Mahmoud Illean / AP

Just hours before President Trump's highly anticipated speech on Jerusalem, the White House is engaged in damage control. The challenge Trump and his team are facing: how to fulfill his campaign promise of moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and still get a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians — and prevent a wave a violence across the West Bank and the Middle East.

Between the lines: White House officials think Trump's decision to follow through on his campaign promise — even if only partially — strengthens his credibility around the world as a someone who stands by his word, isn't intimidated by threats, and doesn't cave to international pressure.

What we're hearing: Trump believes that even if other world leaders don't like the decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and start the process of moving the U.S. embassy to the city, they will nevertheless respect him for doing what he said he would do.

  • As a senior administration official told me: "The president will reiterate in his speech how committed he is to peace. While we understand how some parties might react, we are still working on our plan which is not yet ready. We have time to get it right and see how people feel after this news is processed over the next period of time."

Trump's peace team – mainly senior adviser Jared Kushner and special envoy Jason Greenblatt — supported Trump's decision. The peace plan Kushner and Greenblatt are working on is still in the making, and is expected to be presented in the next few months.

Behind the scenes: Trump's peace team sees the current crisis with the Palestinians as a bump in the road. The White House expected the Palestinians to get mad at Trump's decision, and also expected the angry statements by Arab governments. Kushner and Greenblatt are planning to put their heads down for a while, keep working quietly on the peace plan and wait for the dust to settle in order to make a renewed push.

Notable: The Trump speech will have something for the Palestinians too. A senior administration official said Trump will say for the first time since he won the Oval Office that he is prepared to support a two-state solution if both Israelis and Palestinians agree to it.

Why it's a big deal:

  • A statement by Trump in support of a two-state solution was one of the main demands the Palestinians made in the last few months.
  • By saying that, Trump will align himself with his three predecessors — Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
  • The Trump peace team sees this part of the president's speech as something that can contribute to the re-launch of peace talks.

What to watch: The White House is concerned about possible escalation of tensions as a result of Trump's decision, but hopes the president's good relations with the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan will help in calming down the situation as soon as possible.

Senior U.S. officials said Trump asked King Salman of Saudi Arabia, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and Jordan's King Abdullah II to help in lobbying the Palestinians to refrain from violence and return to peace talks. This might not be that easy. Israeli officials say the Israel Defense Forces and Shin-Bet see riots and escalating violence as a likely scenario and are getting prepared.

Be smart: Trump's decision on the embassy will fulfill his campaign promise only symbolically. On the ground, not much is going to change. The planning and building of a new embassy might take at least three to four years, according to senior U.S. officials.

Until then, Trump will continue to sign waivers to delay the move once every six months — as the previous presidents did — and the U.S. embassy will stay at its current location on the golden beaches of Tel Aviv. If Trump wants to inaugurate the new embassy, he will probably have to win a second term in office first.

Featured

What to make of Kushner's remarks on Middle East peace

Photo: Jose Luis Magana / AP

President Trump's son in law and senior adviser Jared Kushner was the administration's key note speaker today at the Saban Forum in Washington. It was the first time Kushner spoke publicly about the administration's efforts to promote "the ultimate deal" between Israel and the Palestinians.

Kushner was very careful in his remarks, but these three points are worth noting:

  1. In order to create more stability in the Middle East we have to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
  2. We need to overcome the Israeli-Palestinian issue in order to improve relations between Israel and the rest of the Arab world.
  3. Many of the day-to-day crises between Israel and the Palestinians are caused by the fact there is no final status agreement, and that's why we need to solve the big issues (i.e. borders, security, refugees, Jerusalem etc.)

The big picture: Kushner's comments showed the Trump "peace team" is drafting a comprehensive deal aiming at a final status agreement that solves all core issues – and not a plan that aims at partial or interim agreements. Kushner's comments also showed that the Trump administration see the "ultimate deal" between Israel and the Palestinians as a centerpiece of its Middle East policy and a key to promoting other policies in the region – mainly an alliance between Israel and the Gulf states against Iran.

Netanyahu wouldn't necessary like this: Kushner wasn't critical either of Israel or the Palestinians, but some of the points he made are contrary to Netanyahu's positions. Netanyahu stressed time and time again that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict isn't the cause for other problems in the Middle East and that solving it, as important as it might be, will not solve issues like ISIS or the Sunni-Shia confrontation. Netanyahu also said time and time again in the last year that he thinks Israel's relations with the Gulf states can get warmer regardless of whether there is progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Featured

Palestinians want Trump to back away from Jerusalem plan

Trump with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. Photo: Sebastian Scheiner / AP

The Palestinian delegation, which met with White House officials last week, said the U.S. would not be accepted by the Palestinian Authority as an honest broker or a mediator with Israel if Trump recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Why it matters: Palestinian officials say the members of the delegation told Trump's aides that any move by the President regarding Jerusalem — either moving the U.S. embassy there or recognizing the city as Israel's capital — would kill any possibility for a future peace initiative by Trump.

Palestinian officials say they got no clear answers from the White House regarding the concerns they raised. Trump is expected to give a speech on the matter next Wednesday.

What they're saying: In the last 24 hours the Palestinians have been trying to get the international community to push the Trump administration to refrain from any steps regarding Jerusalem.

  • Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called the crown prince of Saudi Arabia Mohamed Bin Salman (nicknamed MBS) and asked him to intervene with the U.S. on this issue.
  • MBS has a very close relationship with Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner. According to Palestinian officials, MBS told Abbas that King Salman and him personally see the issue of Jerusalem as a top priority.
  • Palestinian officials say Abbas also called King Abdullah of Jordan, Egyptian President Sisi, French President Macron, President of Turkey Erdogan and the Emirs of Kuwait and Qatar. In all the phone calls Abbas asked his counterparts to press the Trump administration not to take any moves regarding Jerusalem. Abbas's spokesman Nabil Abu-Rudeineh said Abbas told his counterparts that such a move by the U.S. will have dangerous consequences for the whole region.
Featured

White House: No Israel embassy decision this week

Trump hasn’t ruled out moving the embassy to Jerusalem. Photo: Sebastian Scheiner / AP

President Trump isn't going to announce a decision this week about whether the U.S. will move its embassy to Jerusalem, an administration official tells us. "The President is still considering options," the official said, noting that Trump already has a full plate with the North Korea missile launch, the tax bill in the Senate, and other issues.

Yes, but: That still leaves the door open to an announcement in the near future. And the administration official didn't rule out an embassy move: "The law passed in 1995 states that the Embassy should be in Jerusalem. As the President has made clear, it is a matter of when, not if."

What to watch: Israeli officials think there is a chance Trump will sign the waiver and not move the embassy for the next six months, but at the same time declare that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. If that happens, it will likely cause an angry response from the Palestinians and some Arab states, including Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

The big picture: The status of Jerusalem is one of the core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A presidential announcement that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel will make it harder for the Trump administration to promote the peace initiative it has been working on for the past few months.
Featured

Kushner to talk Mideast peace efforts at Sunday forum

Kushner will take questions at the Saban Forum. Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

Jared Kushner will make his first public remarks on the Trump administration’s Mideast peace initiative on Sunday at the Saban Forum, an annual meeting of U.S. and Israeli leaders organized by the Brookings Institution, according to a source familiar with the event. He'll answer questions from Haim Saban, the billionaire investor — and Clinton donor — who hosts the forum.

Why it matters: Kushner will speak as President Trump ponders a decision — expected early next week, per the Wall Street Journal — on whether to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. Any such move could complicate the talks with the Palestinians, who consider East Jerusalem the capital of a future state.

Israelis and Palestinians have been on their best behavior so they won't be seen as the party scuttling negotiations. But Israeli officials hope that even if Trump signs a waiver delaying the move again — as he did in June — he will make a statement recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

The back story: Kushner has been heading a small team that has been working on a peace initiative that Israeli and Palestinian officials expect Trump to release early next year. But the details are a total mystery — it's one of the only cases in the Trump administration where the details haven't leaked.

So Kushner's comments could provide the first clues about even the most basic elements of the plan, such as whether it would be based on the creation of a Palestinian state.

What to watch: How much Kushner is ready to reveal about those details — and whether there's any sign that the initiative is being affected by the turmoil surrounding Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, or whether his fate is simply irrelevant to the negotiations.

Other members of the “peace team": Special envoy Jason Greenblatt, Deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, and Consul General to Jerusalem Don Blome.

Go deeper: Trump's mystery plan for Mideast peace

Featured

Pence to speak at Knesset on Israel trip

Pence speaks at the 2017 American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference in Washington. Photo: Jose Luis Magana /AP

Vice President Mike Pence is planning to give a landmark speech at the Knesset — the Israeli Parliament — during his trip to Israel in Mid-December. Israeli officials said the initiative for the speech came from the Vice President and his advisers, and received a positive response from the Israeli side immediately.

The Israeli officials said Pence will arrive at the Knesset on December 18th, will be given a formal welcoming ceremony and will have a working meeting with Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein before his speech.

A White House official said: "The Vice President's trip is still in the planning stages. Therefore, we cannot confirm the speaking venues at this time".

The big picture: Pence will use his visit in Israel and his speech at the Knesset to talk about the U.S.-Israel alliance and common threats like Iran. But he will also use it to further boost his foreign policy credentials and Pro-Israel record for a possible presidential run in the future.

Go deeper: Pence is the Trump administration's point man to the Jewish and Pro-Israel community. He will be the first U.S. official to give a speech at the Knesset in almost a decade. The last such speech was given in May 2008 by then-President George W. Bush. President Obama thought about giving a speech at the Knesset during his visit in 2013 but decided to move it to a conference center in Jerusalem to avoid possible protests by Israeli Members of Knesset during the speech. President Trump wanted to give a speech at the mount of Masada but eventually picked the Israel museum in Jerusalem as the venue for his speech to the Israeli people.

Featured

A new obstacle to Mideast peace talks

President Trump meets with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas at the White House in May. Photo: Evan Vucci / AP

The Jerusalem Post reports: "Palestinians have frozen ties with the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem and American officials visiting the West Bank ... If Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump's senior adviser, or Jason Greenblatt, the administration's main peace envoy came to the West Bank, PA officials would not be able to meet with them."
Why it matters: A senior adviser to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said they're freezing communications because the State Department won't renew the certification of the Palestinian Liberation Organization's representative office in Washington, D.C. If the office is forced to close, it would almost certainly derail the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations being brokered by the Trump administration.

The details:

  • The PLO office is the de facto Palestinian embassy to the U.S. and was an important symbol for Palestinian diplomatic achievements.
  • The Palestinians say closing the office would be the equivalent to cutting diplomatic ties between the U.S. and the Palestinian Authority, and would be a proof the Trump administration can't be an honest broker in future peace talks.

Between the lines: There's been speculation that the Trump administration's refusal to certify the Palestinian office was a tactic to gain leverage over the Palestinians in the peace talks. That's false. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had to sign a letter of decertification regarding the PLO office because the law obliged him to notify Congress if the Palestinians are encouraging the International Criminal Court to prosecute Israel for alleged war crimes (which Palestinian President Abbas did in his UN speech in September).

  • Until now, the Palestinian actions and rhetoric regarding their relations with the U.S. had been mostly symbolic.
What we're hearing: Both sides are still talking to each other, and the office is still open — for now. Relations are not suspended yet. State Department officials tell us they're still in contact with Palestinian officials about the status of the PLO office, as well as about the administration's larger efforts to advance a lasting and comprehensive peace.

The bottom line: The Trump administration is sorting through its political and legal options to navigate this tense — and potentially disastrous — situation.

Sign up for Axios newsletters to get our smart brevity delivered to your inbox every morning.

Featured

Israel is nervous about the Syria ceasefire deal

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser / Axios

Israeli leaders are worried about the ceasefire deal in southern Syria signed last weekend between the U.S., Russia and Jordan. That's because the deal will allow Iranian-backed forces to position themselves as close as 3.5 miles from the Israeli border in the Golan Heights. But they also think it sends an alarming signal about the Trump administration's policies.

The big picture: Israeli officials see the deal as a sign that the Trump administration is too eager to pull out of the Middle East, and not willing to back up its rhetoric about confronting Iran's negative regional behavior with action.

The back story: Since June, Israel has been following the negotiations between the U.S., Russia and Jordan on a deal to create “de-escalation" zones in southwest Syria — one of them on its northern border in the Golan Heights.

Israel wasn't a party to the deal, but an Israeli team held numerous rounds of secret talks in Tel Aviv, Amman, Washington and Moscow with U.S, Russian and Jordanian officials to make sure that Israeli security interests were taken into consideration.

The details: Israeli officials say that while it is positive that non-Syrian forces — i.e., Iranian backed Shia militias or Hezbollah elements — will not be allowed to enter the “de-escalation" zones, it doesn't push them far enough from the border.

  • They say Israel wanted the “de-escalation" zone to be 25 miles wide minimum, but the map drawn by U.S., Russian and Jordanian diplomats only made this zone 13 miles wide — and in some areas, only 3.5 miles wide.
  • Israeli officials also say the deal doesn't define clearly how the deal will be upheld and monitored.
  • Another objection: While the deal generally refers to the need to withdraw all non-Syrian forces from the country, it does not define a timetable for doing that.

Israeli officials who participated in the secret talks about the Syria deal say U.S. officials told them it might be possible to push the pro-Iranian forces further away from the Israeli border in the future in the context of a political process to end the civil war. "We are not putting too much hope in those promises," one Israeli official told me.

What they're saying: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a speech Tuesday that Iran wants to create a permanent air, land and sea military presence in Syria. "We are not going to agree to that," he told a meeting of the Jewish Federation of North America's General Assembly in Los Angeles. "Israel will work to stop this … If we have to, we'll stand alone. Iran will not turn Syria into a military base against Israel."

Minister of Defense Avigdor Lieberman, who spent two full days this week in the northern command and mainly on the Syrian border, said the Israeli military will maintain complete freedom of operations in Syria regardless of the ceasefire deal. He added: "Those who have yet to understand it, should understand it now."

What they're not saying: Less publicly, Israeli officials admit they failed to convince Russia and the U.S. to draft a deal that will address Israeli concerns more seriously. While they are not surprised with the Russians, they are disappointed with the way the Trump administration handled the Syria deal.

Israeli officials say they had an ambivalent feeling about the talks with the White House and State Department. On the one hand, they think Israel and the U.S. agree on the need to roll back Iranian presence in Syria. But on the other hand, they don't believe the Trump administration is willing to commit to any real action to enforce its position on the matter — or on any other issue in the region.

As one Israeli official told me: "America has turned into a rumor in the Middle East. It's gone. There is nothing."

The only comfort Israeli officials have is that, while it doesn't want to take action itself, the Trump administration is giving Israel a “green light" to continue its military strikes against Hezbollah and Iran in Syria. "We will just have to take care of it on our own," an Israeli official told me.

Between the lines: Daniel B. Shapiro, former U.S. ambassador to Tel Aviv and now a senior fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, told me the greatest potential point of divergence between Donald Trump and Netanyahu has always been on Syria. "Trump, like Obama, has little appetite for a more sustained military engagement in Syria once ISIS is defeated, and the American people even less so," Shapiro said.

What to watch: A U.S. delegation headed by Mike Bell, the top Middle East adviser on the National Security Council, visited Israel this week for talks at the prime minister's office on regional security issues, including Syria. And Netanyahu's national security adviser, Meir Ben-Shabbat, will lead a senior interagency delegation to Washington, likely in the first week of December, for talks with Trump's national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, and other senior U.S. officials.

The trip was planned for some time, but Israeli officials expect it to focus mainly on the aftermath of the ceasefire deal, the Iranian presence in Syria and on the future of the Iranian nuclear deal.

Sign up for Axios newsletters to get our smart brevity delivered to your inbox every morning.