NEW YORK CITY—A fascinating, if controversial, new book by veteran Israeli journalist Barak Ravid takes readers behind the scenes of the Donald J. Trump White House during some of the most consequential years in U.S.-Israeli relations.
“Trump's Peace: The Abraham Accords and the Reshaping of the Middle East” released in Israel last week with the bombshell scoop that Trump has become so furious with former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he said of Netanyahu – on the record and on tape – “F*** him!”
The book also contains other controversial headlines.
Ravid reports that:
Trump had no idea that Netanyahu was planning to place large swaths of the West Bank – known to Israelis as Judea and Samaria – under sovereign Israeli law
Trump felt blindsided and became angry when Netanyahu announced his so-called “annexation plan” during the White House ceremony unveiling the Trump peace plan in January 2020, asking aides after the ceremony, “What the hell was that?
When Trump told his team to tell Netanyahu that there was no way that the U.S. would support immediate annexation, Netanyahu felt humiliated and angry.
A month later, when Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer met privately at the White House with Jared Kushner, the architect of the Trump peace plan, their conversation devolved into a shouting match and Kushner threw Dermer out of his office.
Trump told Ravid that Netanyahu never really wanted to make peace with the Palestinians, and this, too, angered Trump.
FRIEDMAN CRIES FOUL
The book is getting lots of coverage in Israel.
But not everyone is happy with it.
Former U.S. Ambassador David Friedman – who was a senior advisor to Trump and deeply involved in the drafting of the Trump plan – has blasted sections of the book as “false.”
Friedman also says Ravid didn’t even interview him to get his side of the story.
More on that it a moment.
Dermer, thus far, has not commented.
I reached out to him to get his perspective, but he has not responded.
We will definitely publish his side if and when he does respond.
Today, let me share with you the rest of my interview with the book’s author.
Here is part two of my interview with Barak Ravid, slightly edited for clarity:
TRUMP SAYS NETANYAHU WAS NEVER REALLY INTERESTED IN PEACE WITH THE PALESTINIANS
ROSENBERG: What more can you tell us about your conversations with former President Donald Trump and how he sees Israel and the region?
BARAK RAVID: What was most interesting to me was that Trump told me that when he came into office, he had this image of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and some of his aides cultivated this image that the Palestinians are obstructionist rejectionists. That they [the Palestinians] don't want peace, while Israel only wants to make peace and finish the conflict with the Palestinians.
And Trump told me that when he started working on this file – and when he met President (Mahmoud) Abbas, the Palestinian president, and Prime Minister Netanyahu – he realized that things were more complex.
While the Palestinians are, as he said, very difficult – there's great hate between Palestinians and Israelis – but still, he did think that the Palestinian leadership [initially] did want to make a deal, and did want to move forward.
Yet with Netanyahu, Trump’s feeling was that he [Bibi] didn't feel any pressure to really move ahead [in terms of making peace with the Palestinians].
So, his conclusion at the end of the day was that things are more complex and that on both sides, the leaderships are not really working all day to try and finish the conflict, but more or less are just trying to, as he said, it to “tap” him along – tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.
That's what he said about Netanyahu, and about Abbas.
He said, “You know, Abbas said nice things to me when we sat down in private at the White House. But when he went back to Ramallah, he said much more warlike things.”
And I think that Trump realized how much, at the end of the day, the leadership on both sides are much more interested in the status quo [than in really making peace with each other].
THE BATTLE OVER ANNEXATION
ROSENBERG: What’s another scoop contained in your book that English readers ought to know?
RAVID: I think one of the interesting things to me was that after President Trump released his peace plan on Jan. 28, 2020, Prime Minister Netanyahu tried to use it as a green light for annexing parts of the West Bank – which means basically turning the Israeli occupation in the West Bank, which was temporary according to Israeli policy, into something permanent, and to basically apply Israeli laws over the West Bank or big parts of the West Bank.
And for President Trump, this was not the plan. He wanted to present a peace plan that would be a platform for negotiations.
When he heard Netanyahu announcing that he will annex parts of the West Bank, he basically told me, “I got angry and I stopped it.”
And this led to, I think, the lowest point in relations between the Trump administration and the Netanyahu government since Trump assumed office – it was really the lowest point.
And this all happened just before the third consecutive Israeli election, which was like a few weeks after the ceremony.
In the fallout [after the third round of Israeli relations], Israeli Ambassador to Washington Ron Dermer came to the White House to see Jared Kushner. And they hadn’t spoken for a month, and this was the first time they spoke again.
Dermer basically blamed Kushner and the White House for undermining Netanyahu's position in the elections when they convinced him to come to the White House and support Trump's peace plan, but then left him out to dry with the annexation.
And Kushner really didn't like those comments. He basically told Dermer that, “Everything that happened in the last three years [i.e., recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, etc.] wasn't because you managed to manipulate us. It was because we wanted to do them because we care about Israel and wanted to do all those policies to strengthen Israel. It's not because we cared about you personally, or Mr. Netanyahu.”
Then Dermer said that, “You know, Prime Minister Netanyahu doesn't know if he can still trust the Trump administration.”
Kushner got really upset at this, and told Dermer that this was disgusting, and he basically told him, “Get the hell out of my office,” and he threw him out from the White House.
And this was really a very, very low moment in the relations between the Trump administration and the Israeli government.
DID TRUMP REALLY NOT KNOW ABOUT ANNEXATION?
On Dec. 12, while on his book tour, Barak Ravid told an Israeli radio program that, “David Friedman, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, told Netanyahu that there would be annexation of the settlements and the Jordan Valley – he just forgot to tell U.S. President Donald Trump."
Friedman immediately and forcefully denied this.
“Completely false,” Friedman tweeted. “Not surprising given the reporter. Barak, please identify your source – there are less than a handful of people familiar with this history.”
As evidence that he is right and Ravid is wrong, Friedman sent out three additional tweets that day.
“Not only was the President informed and aware of the sovereignty process, he outlined it in his speech. There were numerous follow up discussions as well, all of which included me. A book on this subject on which I was never consulted should be taken with a grain of salt.”
“From President Trump’s speech of 1/28/20 unveiling the Peace Plan: ‘The USA will recognize Israeli sovereignty over the territory that my vision provides to be part of the State of Israel,’ territory in Judea and Samaria.”
“From the same speech: ‘We will form a joint committee with Israel to convert the conceptual map into a more detailed rendering so that recognition can be immediately achieved.’”
On Dec. 13, as more stories appeared in the Israeli and international media in Ravid claimed that Trump was blindsided by Netanyahu’s desire and plan to apply Israeli law over swaths of the West Bank, Friedman pushed backed again.
“This entire account by Ravid of my interaction with the president and others is materially false. Again, Ravid does not identify his sources and I was never consulted for his book.”
As I was working on this article, I went back to Ravid to get his reaction to Friedman’s charges.
Ravid said he stands by his reporting and would only add this for the record, “I respect David Friedman and I am looking forward to reading, ‘The Sledgehammer.’”
Friedman’s memoir, “Sledgehammer: How Breaking with the Past Brought Peace to the Middle East,” will be published on Feb. 8.
WHAT REALLY HAPPENED?
So, what’s really going on here?
Who’s right, and who is wrong?
Sources that I have spoken to say that Friedman is right in the sense that Trump absolutely knew about the annexation plan and did mention it in his Jan. 28 speech unveiling his peace plan.
They say that it is preposterous that Friedman had not informed Trump of an element that was central to the peace plan – that eventually Israel could apply sovereignty over some of Judea and Samaria and the Palestinians would have their own sovereign state.
However, they say that Ravid is partially right in the sense that Trump was taken completely off guard by Netanyahu’s assertion on Jan. 28 that he was going to go back to Israel to pursue annexation immediately.
Netanyahu, Dermer and their team somehow got the notion that Trump was fine with moving quickly on annexation, but that was completely untrue.
How the miscommunication happened is not yet clear to me.
But that very miscommunication created tremendous anger and mistrust on both sides kept well hidden from the publisher and completely unknown until Ravid’s book was released.
The book is currently only available in Hebrew, though discussions are underway for it to possibly be published in English, as well.
You can read an exclusive excerpt in English by clicking here.
Joel C. Rosenberg is the editor-in-chief of ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and the President and CEO of Near East Media. A New York Times best-selling author, Middle East analyst, and Evangelical leader, he lives in Jerusalem with his wife and sons.