(photo credit: SIVAN FARAG)
World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas last week to help prepare him for his meeting with US President Donald Trump, angering Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, sources close to the prime minister said on Monday.
Politicians who spoke to Lauder at Sunday’s Jerusalem Post Annual Conference in New York, which Lauder presided over, confirmed that he told them about his meeting with Abbas. Confidants who spoke to Netanyahu about Lauder told The Jerusalem Post that he was furious about the American Jewish leader’s meeting.
“You don’t understand how much influence he has over Trump,” Netanyahu told a confidant in a private conversation Monday. “Out of the people around Trump, he is my biggest challenge to overcome.”
Sources close to Netanyahu were divided over how to attribute Lauder’s help to Abbas. Some saw it as a genuine desire to advance the cause of peace in the Middle East, while others said it might be connected to the personal dispute between Lauder and the prime minister.
Netanyahu and Lauder were once very close, but their ties were harmed by critical reports of Netanyahu that aired on Channel 10 a few years ago when Lauder was one of the channel’s owners.
Likud MK Anat Berko said Lauder must be given the benefit of the doubt, due to his decades of service to Israel and the Jewish people. She said Netanyahu is in favor of reviving diplomatic talks, and she is sure Lauder was promoting Israel’s interests.
But another Likud MK expressed resentment over Lauder’s intervention, saying “well-meaning American Jews who want to push peace don’t realize how much damage they are causing.”
The Post’s Hebrew sister publication Ma’ariv reported over the weekend that Lauder had been advancing a regional peace plan for years and was making progress in persuading Trump to adopt it. Ma’ariv reported Monday that Lauder hosted Abbas in his New York home to prepare him ahead of his meeting with Trump, and that Netanyahu’s associates tried unsuccessfully to torpedo the Abbas-Trump meeting.
The Post reported from behind the scenes at the conference on Sunday that Lauder told Israeli politicians there that Trump had succeeded in persuading Abbas to make the kind of concessions that will enable the diplomatic process to move forward.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman told his Yisrael Beytenu faction meeting on Monday that he is optimistic about Trump’s diplomatic ideas, even though he does not know what they include.
“I am sure Trump will come with real, honest initiatives, and we’ll be ready to listen,” Liberman said. “We respect this administration, which is very, very friendly. We don’t get to pick our partners on the other side.”
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog told his Zionist Union faction that Trump is determined to ignite an active diplomatic process that could lead to an agreement with the Palestinians.
“Netanyahu will have to choose between our national interests and his own narrow personal interests,” he said. “The prime minister always prefers his personal survival over the good of the state.”