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A general view from Nablus in the occupied West Bank of the eastern valley. Photo: Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP via Getty Images)

30 former foreign policy and national security officials from three administrations published an “open letter” harshly criticizing the Trump Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.

Why it matters: The signatories, who served under George W. Bush, Clinton and Obama, criticized the plan as harming U.S. interests, giving Israel “a green light” for annexation in the West Bank and possibly turning Israel into a binational state.

  • The letter is also an indication that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has become a divisive domestic political issue in the U.S., after years of relatively consistent Mideast policy under both Republican and Democratic administrations.

The big picture: The letter says the Trump plan is abandoning longstanding U.S. principles, such as excluding solutions by outside parties, resolving the conflict only through direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians and avoiding unilateral steps that prejudice a final outcome.

  • “Abandoning those principles will have enduring and deleterious effects on U.S. interests, Israel's security, Palestinian aspirations, and the stability of a key Arab partner, Jordan,” they said in the letter.
  • Trump’s plan “could strike a fatal blow to the two-state outcome, and lead inexorably toward a binational state in which Palestinians do not have equal rights.”
  • “The administration seems to be giving a green light to unilateral Israeli annexation in the West Bank, which would accelerate that process.”

Driving the news: The letter states the timing on unveiling the plan “appears aimed primarily at burnishing President Trump's domestic political standing and at intervening in the highly competitive Israeli elections to help re-elect Benjamin Netanyahu.”

Who signed the letter:

  • Jonathan Finer, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Kerry
  • Philip H. Gordon, special assistant to President Obama and White House Middle East coordinator
  • Brian Katulis, Clinton administration policy planning staff
  • Daniel B. Shapiro, former U.S. ambassador to Israel
  • Frank Lowenstein, former special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations
  • Colin Kahl, former national security adviser to Vice President Biden
  • Kelly Magsamen, former principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs
  • Nancy McEldowney, former U.S. ambassador to Bulgaria
  • Jeffrey Prescott, former special assistant to President Obama and National Security Council senior director for Iran, Iraq, Syria, and the Gulf States
  • Susan E. Rice, former national security adviser
  • Bathsheba Crocker, former Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs
  • Andrew Miller, former NSC Director for Egypt and Israel Military Issues
  • Ilan Goldenberg, former chief of staff to the special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations
  • Ben Rhodes, former deputy national security adviser
  • Jake Sullivan, former national security adviser to Vice President Biden
  • Tamara Cofman Wittes, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs
  • Jeffrey Feltman, former foreign service officer and UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs 
  • Jerry Feierstein, former Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs 
  • Wendy R. Sherman, former Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs
  • Prem Kumar, former NSC Senior Director for the Middle East and North Africa
  • Julie Smith, former deputy national security adviser to Vice President Biden
  • Daniel C. Kurtzer, former U.S. ambassador to Israel
  • Martin Indyk, former U.S. ambassador to Israel and U.S. Special Envoy for Israeli–Palestinian Negotiations
  • Antony Blinken, former deputy secretary of state
  • Rob Malley, former special assistant to President Obama and White House Coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf region.
  • Jim O’Brien, former special presidential envoy
  • Rebecca Brocato, former special assistant to President Obama
  • Ned Price, former special assistant to President Obama
  • Matt Nosanchuk, former White House liaison to the American Jewish community 

Go deeper

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Joe Biden is considering retired four-star general Lloyd Austin as his nominee for Defense secretary, adding him to a shortlist that includes Jeh Johnson, Tammy Duckworth and Michele Flournoy, two sources with direct knowledge of the decision-making tell Axios.

Why it matters: A nominee for Pentagon chief was noticeably absent when the president-elect rolled out his national security team Tuesday. Flournoy had been widely seen as the likely pick, but Axios is told other factors — race, experience, Biden's comfort level — have come into play.

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Top scientists at the World Health Organization on Friday called for more detailed information on a coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford.

Why it matters: Oxford and AstraZeneca have said the vaccine was 90% effective in people who got a half dose followed by a full dose, and 62% effective in people who got two full doses. AstraZeneca has since acknowledged that the smaller dose received by some participants was the result of an error by a contractor, per the New York Times.