A big headline this week was Donald Trump’s response to Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to congratulate Joe Biden on his election. “F*** him,” said the eloquent former president.
Trump wrongly accused Netanyahu of being the first to call Biden; in fact, he was among the last world leaders to phone (he waited 10 days) the president-elect, and even in his statements he avoided using that title, just calling him “Joe.” Trump considered any call disloyal. Oddly, one big liar was accusing another big liar of failing to go along with the really Big Lie.
But that’s not the real story. In his interview with Axios journalist Barak Ravid for his book Trump’s Peace: The Abraham Accords and the Reshaping of the Middle East, Trump confirmed what everyone else figured out long ago. His pal Bibi was no more interested in making peace with the Palestinians than their buddy the crown prince of Saudi Arabia was of confessing his crimes and being bar mitzvahed at the Western Wall.
Whatever the faults of the Palestinians – including corrupt, violent, inept, moribund leadership – peace was never on the table while Netanyahu was in office. Another of his lies was an endorsement of the two-state approach, which he offered only under pressure from Barack Obama (another president who saw through Netanyahu but much earlier) and quickly walked back so far that he eventually vowed there would never be a Palestinian state on his watch.
“Bibi didn’t want to make a deal. Never did,” Trump told Ravid. “I thought the Palestinians were impossible, and the Israelis would do anything to make peace and a deal. I found that not to be true.”
Trump called Netanyahu “the man that I did more for than any other person.... [He] could have stayed quiet” but made a “terrible mistake.” That will “hurt him very badly” because “I’m very popular in Israel,” the disgraced former president told Ravid. Trump also said that if he hadn’t abrogated the Iran nuclear deal “I think Israel would’ve been destroyed maybe by now.”
Alon Pinkas has chronicled, in his Haaretz column, Netanyahu’s history of deception and conflict with American presidents, Republican and Democrat, over three decades. It comes from the arrogance of thinking he’s smarter than everyone else, a trait he shares with Trump.
The Abraham Accords, the single foreign policy achievement of both Trump and Netanyahu, almost never happened, Ravid revealed, because the Israeli leader got cold feet the day before it was to be signed.
Netanyahu wanted to get out of the deal and call for new elections because the accords would mean going back on his vow to annex chunks of the West Bank. The White House opposed annexation and was furious with Netanyahu’s desire to go ahead and annex 13% of the West Bank and “give the Palestinians absolutely nothing in return,” Ravid reported.
When the president’s point man on the Middle East, Jared Kushner, heard about Netanyahu’s cold feet, he sent a message to the prime minister, echoing his father-in-law’s vernacular. “He can go f*** himself,” Kushner said.
The annexation threat was the catalyst for the deal to normalize relations between Israel and the UAE. No annexation or no deal. But that was not the only sweetener. It also cleared the way for the Emirates to get long banned F-35 fighters, and it gave Trump important accomplishments – peace and arms sales – to take into the upcoming election.
When Netanyahu afterward said the annexation commitment was only good for three years, Trump was furious. He and Emirati leaders insisted annexation was permanently off the table.
Ravid reveals that the Trump-Netanyahu bromance was not what it was portrayed for domestic political reasons. Trump, a man of endless grievances, particularly seems bitter that the Israeli leader treated him “like a flowerpot,” one former official told Ravid. He wouldn’t be the first to feel that way.
The president indicated to Ravid he felt Netanyahu was trying to push the United States into a war with Iran.
Relations between the two men steadily deteriorated, we know now, with Netanyahu warning at one point that Trump could come out publicly against him and hit him with a bitter Twitter attack.
Kushner and Avi Berkowitz, Trump’s Mideast peace envoy, grew increasingly skeptical about Netanyahu’s intentions, truthfulness and trustworthiness – an attitude widely shared by politicians and diplomats of all stripes in both countries.
Trump told Ravid he did not think American Jews are as pro-Israel as in the past, a variation on a theme he used in other talks when he accused Jews of disloyalty.
It is true. And no one is more responsible for that than Netanyahu himself. He long ago took a deep dive into American partisan politics and into the opposite side of the pool from where the Jews and the party they supported were. He focused on winning the support of Evangelicals, knowing that Jews found their overall political agenda anathema, but he rationalized his action by noting the 10-to-1 population difference.
Biden and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett are trying to restore bipartisanship and Jewish support. It won’t be easy, especially if Republicans take control of one or both chambers of the Congress in next year’s byelection.
Working against bipartisanship will be Trump, Netanyahu and congressional Republicans who have found Israel to be a profitable wedge issue to be exploited regardless of the interests of the United States, Israel or the Jewish people.