Netanyahu denies surprising Trump, Kushner with Israeli annexation bid

Netanyahu, however, said that he and Trump exchanged letters on the day before the ceremony unveiling the Trump peace plan.

THEN-PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the annual Jewish Agency Board of Governors meeting in Jerusalem, in 2019. (photo credit: NOAM REVKIN FENTON/FLASH90)
THEN-PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the annual Jewish Agency Board of Governors meeting in Jerusalem, in 2019.
(photo credit: NOAM REVKIN FENTON/FLASH90)

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu denied that his plans to annex parts of the West Bank were not coordinated with the Trump administration, as former senior adviser to the president Jared Kushner maintains in his upcoming memoir.

“The allegation that prime minister Netanyahu surprised Jared Kushner and [former] president [Donald] Trump by announcing Israel’s intention to apply Israeli law to the 30% of Judea and Samaria envisioned in the Trump plan as sovereign Israeli territory is completely false,” a spokesperson for Netanyahu said on Thursday.

Immediately after the Trump administration presented its “Vision for Peace” in January 2020, Netanyahu said he would bring the extension of Israeli sovereignty to parts of the West Bank to a cabinet vote the following week. Then-ambassador to Israel David Friedman told the media that Israel could start work toward annexation the moment it completed its internal process.

“The allegation that Prime Minister Netanyahu surprised Jared Kushner and [former] president [Donald] Trump by announcing Israel’s intention to apply Israeli law to the 30 percent of Judea and Samaria envisioned in the Trump plan as sovereign Israeli territory is completely false.”

Netanyahu spokesperson

In Breaking History: A White House Memoir, Kushner wrote that he and Trump were surprised by those statements.

“As it turned out, Friedman had assured Bibi that he would get the White House to support annexation more immediately,” he wrote. “He had not conveyed this to me or anyone on my team.”

In Friedman’s book, Sledgehammer, released earlier this year, the ambassador similarly wrote that he did not know that “Bibi is annexing the freaking Jordan Valley today,” as he recalled Kushner putting it. When the three held a “difficult and unpleasant meeting,” Kushner said he thought the process of mapping out the areas to be annexed would take some time, while Netanyahu said no further mapping was necessary for the Jordan Valley.

“We never discussed that,” Kushner said, and Friedman wrote, “Everyone was telling the truth.”

 Former senior advisor to ex US president Donald Trump, Jared Kusner, his wife Ivanka Trump and head of Opposition Benjamin Netanyahu at an event celebrating the one-year anniversary of the Abraham Accords, in the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on October 11, 2021.  (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) Former senior advisor to ex US president Donald Trump, Jared Kusner, his wife Ivanka Trump and head of Opposition Benjamin Netanyahu at an event celebrating the one-year anniversary of the Abraham Accords, in the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on October 11, 2021. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Netanyahu's response

Netanyahu, however, said that he and Trump exchanged letters on the day before the ceremony unveiling the Trump peace plan.

"As it turned out, Friedman had assured Bibi that he would get the White House to support annexation more immediately. He had not conveyed this to me or anyone on my team."

Jared Kushner

“President Trump’s letter made clear that the US would support Israel’s declaration of sovereignty over this territory, and the prime minister’s letter made clear that Israel would move forward with a declaration regarding sovereignty ‘in the coming days,’” Netanyahu’s spokesman said.

Netanyahu’s office would not provide copies of the letters to The Jerusalem Post, but a source with knowledge of the events confirmed their existence.

The immediacy of the sovereignty plan was mentioned in the letters, though interpretations clearly differed as to whether that meant within days, weeks or longer. In fact, Netanyahu only agreed to endorse the peace plan on the condition that annexation would take place at the outset.

THE FORMER prime minister went to Washington to accept the Trump peace plan “on the basis of these understandings, painstakingly negotiated over several months,” said Netanyahu’s spokesman.

The statement quoted from Trump’s speech at the presentation in the White House, in which the president said, “We will form a joint committee with Israel to convert the conceptual map into a more detailed and calibrated rendering so that recognition can be immediately achieved.”

Furthermore, Trump said, “The United States will recognize Israeli sovereignty over the territory that my vision provides to be part of the State of Israel. Very important.”

This proves, Netanyahu’s spokesman said, that “the charge that prime minister Netanyahu surprised the president and his staff with an uncoordinated announcement on moving forward with sovereignty, and that such an announcement subverted the peace plan, is utterly baseless.”

Kushner said in his book that he saw the speech in advance, and was the one to give it to Trump to read before delivery, meaning that they both saw that it said sovereignty “can be immediately achieved” when there would be a detailed map. Friedman, whom Kushner essentially accused of working behind his back, was not involved in writing the speech.

The day of the peace plan announcement was a busy one for the administration, which may have contributed to the misunderstanding. The Dow Jones dropped 450 points over corona restrictions outside the US, and then, as journalist Bob Woodward reported, former national security advisor Robert O’Brien told Trump that the pandemic would be “the biggest national security threat you face in your presidency.”

At the same time, the Senate was in the middle of impeaching the president; and the manuscript of former national security advisor John Bolton’s book, The Room Where it Happened, was leaked with relevant details.

Tension between the Trump administration and Netanyahu over the annexation issue continued over the ensuing months, in Kushner’s retelling, because Washington sought to exact concessions for the Palestinians from Jerusalem that Netanyahu would not give them. Friedman wrote that Netanyahu was willing to commit to no Israeli construction outside of the areas in the West Bank that the Trump plan earmarked for Israeli sovereignty. Kushner made no mention of that agreement.

Kushner and others were so concerned that Netanyahu would proceed with annexation unilaterally that they conveyed to the prime minister that if he did so, “there was no guarantee that our administration would block the international sanctions against Israel that might follow.”

Netanyahu eventually agreed to back down from annexation when the United Arab Emirates normalized relations with Israel.