Trump's "raft of calls" before Jerusalem speech
Netanyahu told Trump he was making history
Diplomatic correspondent for Israel's Channel 10 news
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."
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."
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:
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.
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.'"
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
President Trump meets with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas at the White House in May. Photo: Evan Vucci / AP
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).
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.
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.
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.