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Trump’s mystery plan for Mideast peace

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser / Axios

Israeli and Palestinian officials expect President Trump to unveil a Mideast peace proposal by early next year. What nobody knows yet is the shape it will take or if the proposal will be based on creating a Palestinian state, which has been U.S. policy for the last 20 years. In the meantime, the two sides are on their best behavior to avoid being singled out by Trump as an obstructionist party.

Sound smart: The U.S. "peace team" working on the issue is relatively small and very discreet — just five people, including senior adviser Jared Kushner and special envoy Jason Greenblatt. The entire process is being run by Trump's aides, with the State Department, NSC and other agencies providing advice and support. According to U.S. officials, Trump is the driving force on this issue and is personally involved. Israeli officials say they hear Trump is pushing his team to have a proposal soon.

In the last nine months Trump has met Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian President Abbas separately three times each to discuss his peace initiative. His special envoy Jason Greenblatt has been constantly shuttling between Jerusalem, Ramallah and Arab capitals.

  • Greenblatt's last trip to the region lasted three weeks, and Kushner, who is officially leading the "peace team," came to the region three times and spends hours every week in phone calls with Arab leaders in order to get their support.
  • The small, close-knit team has meant almost no leaks and zero public scandals, mistakes or embarrassments. (The other members are Deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell, U.S. Ambassador to Tel-Aviv David Friedman and Consul General to Jerusalem Don Blome.)

What they're saying:

  • Netanyahu told U.K. Prime Minister May last week that he's in "wait and see mode" and expecting a proposal late this year or early next year, according to Israeli and British officials. "I don't know what peace plan Trump is about to present and I am not sure anybody knows, but I am happy the Trump team is bringing fresh and out of the box thinking on this issue," he said.
  • Abbas told a group of former Israeli members of Knesset that he expects a plan later this year and that Trump has told him he supports the two-state solution and is planning to make his position public soon, according to people present at the meeting.
  • A White House official says there is no artificial deadline and the goal is to "facilitate a deal that works for both Israelis and Palestinians, not to impose anything on them".

What to watch:

  • Trump is counting on Saudi Arabia to help get both the Israelis and Palestinians to say yes to any initiative. Kushner builds on his close relationship with the Saudi crown prince Mohamed Bin Salman as a conduit for a much bigger Saudi role in the peace process than ever before. Kushner's meeting with MBS in Riyadh two weeks ago focused mainly on this issue. President Abbas was in Riyadh earlier this week to talk about the peace process with the Saudi leadership.
  • Vice President Mike Pence will visit in mid-December and meet with both Netanyahu and Abbas and likely urge the parties to go back to the negotiating table.
  • Netanyahu's political situation could be destabilized by a peace plan that includes Israeli concessions on politically charged issues, like borders, settlements and the future of Jerusalem. The ongoing police investigation against Netanyahu on alleged corruption makes his political situation even more sensitive.
  • Abbas is in the midst of implementing a reconciliation deal with his rival party Hamas. The deal, which was led by Egypt with quiet support from the White House, includes the gradual transfer of control over the Gaza strip back to the Palestinian authority. A collapse of this agreement could have serious implications on any push for a peace deal.
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