President Donald Trump meets Wednesday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, when they are expected to discuss the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran and the fate of the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Trump will rely heavily on the counsel of a team of advisors, both official and non-official.
Here’s a look at the key players who will help craft the new administration’s Middle East policy:
Jared Kushner — Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor, at 36, the real estate developer likely will attend and play a critical role in the Trump-Netanyahu discussions. Vanity Fair magazine quotes Trump as telling Kushner, “If you can’t produce peace in the Middle East, nobody can.” Kushner has met with a number of Arab leaders ahead of the meeting with the Israeli prime minister and is reported to be helping recruit Sunni Muslim countries to help achieve that deal.
He has no experience in government or international affairs, but as an Orthodox Jew and grandson of a Holocaust survivor, he has close personal ties to Israel. Kushner is said to have helped write Trump’s March 2016 speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, in which he criticized the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, promising to restructure, if not dismantle it entirely. Kushner has not spoken out on the issue of Israeli settlements, but the Washington Post reports his family foundation has donated more than $58,000 to support projects in settlements the United Nations regards as illegal.
Steve Bannon — The former executive chairman of the right-wing news site Breitbart, was tapped in August 2016 to head Trump’s election campaign, He now serves as the president’s chief strategist and senior counsel, and has been appointed to sit on the National Security Council. He has been criticized by some Jewish and pro-Israel groups as being anti-Semitic, and praised by others as a strong supporter of Israel, highlighting growing political differences between American Jewish groups today. Bannon has spoken harshly against Islam and predicted war in the Middle East: “To be brutally frank, Christianity is dying in Europe, and Islam’s on the rise,” he said during a Breitbart News radio in January 2016, and not surprisingly, he strongly supported Trump’s ban on immigration from predominantly Muslim countries. Under his tenure, Breitbart News criticized the 2015 Iran nuclear deal as a threat to Israel.
David Friedman — Trump’s pick for U.S. envoy to Israel, is a New York bankruptcy lawyer who has worked with Trump for at least 15 years. Friedman, who maintains a residence in Jerusalem, has been a regular contributor to Arutz Sheva, a conservative Israeli news site, speaking out in favor of Israel’s settlement police. Friedman chairs a U.S. nonprofit called American Friends of Beit El Institutions, which has funded a five-story apartment building recently approved for building in the West Bank settlement of Beit El. One of the founders of the settlement disclosed that in 2003, Trump donated $10,000 to Beit El in honor of Friedman.
Friedman made headlines in December when saying he looked forward to working from “the U.S. embassy in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem.” Since 1948, the U.S. has maintained its embassy in Tel Aviv, believing the future of Jerusalem should be a matter for final status deliberations between Israelis and Palestinians, both of whom claim the capital as their own. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will begin Friedman’s confirmation hearings on Thursday of this week.
Sheldon Adelson — The American casino magnate, philanthropist and Republican party mega-donor who, along with his wife Miriam, donated more than $21 million to the Trump campaign and $1.5 million to help fund the Republican National Convention. Sheldon and his wife were given prime seats on the inaugural during Trump’s swearing-in ceremony January 20.
He has made headlines twice in recent months: First, for giving $25 million to an anti-Clinton PAC just a week before the November election; and second, last Thursday, when it was revealed he dined with Trump at the White House where, the news site Axios reported, Adelson would raise the issue of the two-state solution, which Adelson opposes, and the move of the Israeli embassy to Jerusalem, which Adelson supports.
Journalist Laura Goldman reported on Twitter that Adelson would likely chide Trump for failing to mention Jews in his January 27 statement marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Adelson also is a long-time friend and political supporter of the Israeli prime minister and owns the pro-Netanyahu newspaper, Israel Hayoum. Last week, that paper published Trump’s first-ever interview with Israeli press in which he appeared to back down on the issues of Israeli settlements and moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.
Stephen Miller — Until recently, few had heard of Trump’s senior policy advisor, who was formerly an aide to conservative Alabama senator — now-confirmed Attorney General Jeff Sessions. This past weekend, Miller spoke for the president on several TV news shows, aggressively defending the president’s embattled immigration ban, which he reportedly helped craft. He helped write Trump’s Republican National Convention speech, in which Trump said, “We must abandon the failed policy of nation building and regime change that Hillary Clinton pushed in Iraq, Libya, Egypt and Syria. Instead, we must work with all of our allies who share our goal of destroying ISIS and stamping out Islamic terror. This includes working with our greatest ally in the region, the state of Israel.”