A new book penned by an Israeli author reveals the tensions between former US President Trump and the former hardliner Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
When people hear about Donald Trump’s infamous peace deal for Israel-Palestine, the Deal of the Century, and his push for Arab normalisation deals with Israel, many would have assumed that Trump and former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu enjoyed a close relationship.
It can be argued that Trump, whose daughter was converted to Judaism from Christianity after getting married to Jared Kushner, an Orthodox Jewish American businessman and a big supporter of Israel, was a more pro-Israel president than many of his predecessors.
But Trump’s Peace: The Abraham Accords and the Reshaping of the Middle East, a new book written by Israeli journalist Barak Ravid suggests that neither Trump nor Kushner was a big fan of Netanyahu.
The book argues that tensions between the two administrations had escalated after a press conference in late January last year when Netanyahu publicly argued that Trump's Middle East plan gave a green light to Israel to annex the West Bank and Golan Heights.
“What the hell was that?” thundered an angry Trump after the press conference, according to the book. Trump’s wrath was directly conveyed to Netanyahu by the president’s son-in-law. “This is not the plan,” Kushner told Netanyahu, adding that “There’s no way you are doing this.”
Netanyahu’s attempt to use the Trump plan to annex occupied Palestinian territories had led to seriously deteriorated relations between the two allies, according to Ravid, who interviewed several political actors involved in the deal including Trump.
Kicking out the Israeli envoy
After the press conference rift in January 2020, Israel wanted to approach Trump to settle their differences. But Trump’s Middle East envoy, Avi Berkowitz, told Ron Dermer, the former Israeli ambassador to the US, that “The president doesn’t like you guys now.”
Trump was also reportedly already angry with Netanyahu because Israel refused to take part in the assassination of Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s top military figure. While Israel constantly complained about Iran and its sphere of influence from Tehran to Beirut, it wasn’t willing to do anything when it came to real action.
“Trump was mad at Netanyahu and said that the Israelis are willing to fight Iran until the last American soldier stands,” a US official told Ravid.
A month after the first rift in Washington, Dermer, a dual citizen of the US and Israel, was able to reach Kushner. The two had a very heated exchange, Ravid wrote in the book, after Dermer, a man known for his arrogance, suggested that Netanyahu might stop trusting Trump due to the annexation issue.
“Don’t be mistaken to think that everything that happened in the past three years was for you. We did it because we were serious about peace,” Kushner told Ravid, indicating the Trump administration was not Israel’s pawn when it came to Palestine.
The exchange led to Kushner kicking Dermer out of the White House.
“To say such a thing about us is disgusting. Get out,” said Kushner to Dermer.
Kushner’s spat with people like Dermer also showed an increasing disconnect between American Jews and Israel. In recent decades, particularly liberal American Jews, have become increasingly more vocal of their opposition to a variety of Israel’s positions.
“Look at The New York Times,” Trump said to Ravid. “They hate Israel. And Jews run The New York Times — the Sulzberger family.”
After the Dermer incident, tensions inside the US and between Washington and Tel Aviv over the annexation issue continued to increase.
While the former US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, defended allowing Israel to annex occupied territories, both Trump and Kushner apparently continued to oppose the move.
In June 2020, Netanyahu tried his luck at annexing Palestinian territories, this time threatening to do it alone if necessary. But Kushner alerted him that if he did so, that would be a politically costly move for him.
“This will be the biggest mistake you have ever made,” Trump’s son-in-law warned him. “Trump will come out against you.”
But Netanyahu, who was, and still is, facing multiple corruption accusations, desperately needed to stay in power and the annexation appeared to be the only way to keep his fragile right-wing coalition together.
During another heated conversation, Berkowitz, who was in Israel to convey Trump’s refusal of the Israeli annexation, reminded Netanyahu of the US president’s use of Twitter as a way of threatening his political opponents.
“It’s almost certain Trump will tweet against you,” Berkowitz said. Such a tweet might have further increased Netanyahu’s already high number of political issues at home against his enemies. “You will take your best friend and turn him into an enemy.”
Berkowitz also reminded the hardliner Israeli prime minister that the US might stop helping Tel Aviv at the International Criminal Court in Hague, where the Jewish state has faced an extensive investigation regarding its alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity.
According to Ravid’s book, US-Israel tensions have deescalated thanks to an unexpected move by the UAE’s top leader Mohammed Bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, whose proposal pledged to normalise relations with Tel Aviv in exchange for delaying the annexation for three years.
But even after that offer, which was widely considered as bringing more legitimacy for Israel in the Arab world, the Netanyahu government wanted more, demanding that not one but at least three Arab states should recognise the Jewish state.
“Tell Ron [Dermer] that one country is all he’s getting, and if he doesn’t want it, let him go f**k himself,” Kushner told Berkowitz, according to Ravid’s book.
In the end, not only the UAE but also Bahrain signed the Abraham Accords with Israel in a big public event in August last year. Later, Morocco as a third Arab state also joined the initial two to normalise relations with Israel, meaning Israel got what it wanted in the end.
Despite the Abraham Accords, neither Netanyahu nor Trump could survive in 2020. Trump lost in the election to Joe Biden while a large Israeli coalition backed by the new American administration ousted Netanyahu from power.