Understanding the Trump-Bibi tensions detailed in Kushner’s book

Former U.S., Israeli officials downplay perceived tension between Trump, Netanyahu

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks as President Donald Trump looks on during the signing ceremony of the Abraham Accords on the South Lawn of the White House September 15, 2020, in Washington, D.C.

Former Israeli and U.S. officials are seeking to downplay any perceived disparities or tension between former President Donald Trump and Israel’s former long-serving leader, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, following the publication last week of a memoir by Trump’s former special advisor, Jared Kushner. Speaking to Jewish Insider’s Ruth Marks Eglash last week after Breaking History: A White House Memoir, Kushner’s 500-page recollection of his time in the White House, hit shelves, former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer and, separately, a former Trump White House official, who asked that his name not be used so he could discuss sensitive matters, concurred that even the strongest relationships can experience miscommunications or disagreements. Throughout Trump’s four years in office, both former officials emphasized, communication was good and relations very warm.

At odds: In his book, Kushner, who is also Trump’s son-in-law, recalls two specific incidents when Trump and Netanyahu appeared to be at odds despite public perceptions that both were populist politicians who shared a similar approach and worldview. The first was in December 2017, ahead of the U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move its embassy there from Tel Aviv; the second was when Netanyahu, Kushner said, shocked Trump and Kushner by declaring his intention to annex parts of the West Bank as the Trump administration rolled out its Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.

Lukewarm response: In describing events leading up to Trump’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy, Kushner recounts a phone call the president made to the Israeli prime minister: “On December 5, the day before the planned announcement, Trump called Bibi and told him the news,” he writes, using Netanyahu’s popular nickname. “Bibi said he’d support the move, if that’s what the president wanted to do, but he didn’t sound overly enthused.” Netanyahu’s lukewarm response, recounted Kushner, prompted the president to begin “second-guessing his decision.” 

Fully supportive: “I haven’t read Jared’s book, but to argue that the prime minister of Israel was not supportive of the decision of Trump to recognize Jerusalem is ridiculous,” Dermer told JI in an interview. “We made it clear that we supported this decision from beginning to end.” Dermer, who served in Washington from 2013 until 2021, admitted that moving the embassy wasn’t necessarily Israel’s top priority at the time – that would have been Iran – but, he said, “We were fully supportive of this decision.”

Surprise announcement: In reference to Netanyahu’s announcement that Israel would apply its sovereignty to 30 percent of the West Bank – land that Palestinians hope will one day become part of a national state – Kushner recounts his own surprise as the Israeli prime minister congratulated Trump for being “the first world leader to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over areas in Judea and Samaria that are vital to our security and central to our heritage.”

Supporting annexation: Dermer told JI that the misunderstanding was likely connected to the timeline of Israel’s application of sovereignty over areas already designated in the plan to be under Israeli control and whether or not Netanyahu agreed to establish a Palestinian state in exchange for annexation. The former senior White House official told JI also that the misunderstanding — which is how Kushner characterizes the incident in his book — did indeed stem, in large part, from the timing. “There is no question that the president was amenable and that we were pushing forward with annexation. The only question was about the timing of said annexation,” the former official told JI, confirming reports that there had been an exchange of letters between Trump and Netanyahu assuring White House support for annexation.

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