(Jerusalem, Israel) — The rumor mill is on overdrive.
In the last 72 hours, I’ve seen a surge in speculation here in the Israeli capital that the White House will soon roll out its long-awaited, much anticipated, highly controversial Mideast peace plan.
Elected Israeli officials and their aides, reporters, and other diplomatic and security officials I’ve spoken with just since Saturday are suddenly all but convinced that President Trump will unveil the plan imminently — before Israel’s March 2nd elections.
- Last week, Avi Berkowitz, the President’s new 31-year old point-man for the peace process (he replaced Jason Greenblatt who retired from the administration last Fall) was in Israel. Berkowitz met with Prime Minister Netanyahu and Israeli opposition leader Benny Gantz.
- Next week, Vice President Mike Pence is coming to Israel — news of the visit hasn’t been officially announced yet, but preparations for his arrival are underway.
- Officially, the reason Pence is coming is to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp — the VP will attend ceremonies at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, along with leaders from 30 countries, including Russian President Vladimir Putin.
- Unofficially, the VP’s trip could give the administration the opportunity to further lay the groundwork for an announcement by the President soon thereafter.
- Pence was last here exactly two years ago — just a month after Trump announced he was moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, the VP addressed the Knesset in a high-profile and very positive visit.
- Unknown so far is whether the VP will visit other countries in the region, though that is likely — last time, Pence visited leaders in Egypt and Jordan in addition to his time in Israel.
The Big Question: Given that the Palestinian leadership has already rejected the plan (though they have not seen the details), and given that the third Israeli national election in one year is fully underway, why would the White House want to release the plan now?
The risks are enormous.
- If Israelis hate the plan, the Democratic presidential contenders will surely use that against Trump.
- If Israelis hate the plan, then millions of Evangelicals who love Israel will likely hate it, too — this could potentially dampen enthusiasm for Trump’s reelection efforts.
- However, if Israelis and Evangelicals like the plan, Arab leaders throughout the region may hate the plan — if they say so publicly, Democrats will try to use this against Trump, as well.
The stakes may be highest for Jordan’s King Abdullah II. He’s a good man — a man of peace — and he’s worked hard over his two decades in power to maintain calm, civil relations with Israel, with which the Kingdom has a formal peace treaty.
Yet some 70% of Jordanians are Palestinian. Public opinion inside Jordan is increasingly hostile towards Israel and towards the Trump administration. The King walks a fine line between showing true sympathy and support to his own people and towards the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza, and keeping good relations with Washington, from whom he receives billions of dollars in much needed military and economic aid. What will the King do if his people are enraged by the Trump plan?
That said, it is by no means certain that Gulf Arab leaders will, in fact, hate the Trump plan. Indeed, while they may not love all the details, depending on the fine print contained in the draft they may be able to say, “We have some concerns, some reservations, with some of the details, but we do think it’s a credible plan and it can certainly serve as the basis for immediate negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.” That would be a big win for Trump and his team.
As all this is going on, I’m writing a new Middle East political thriller.
Meanwhile, I’m preparing to release THE JERUSALEM ASSASSIN on March 17th. What’s it about? An American President preparing to release his Middle East peace plan when suddenly things in the region go….boom.
More on that soon.