US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman went rogue when he told then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the Trump administration would support plans to annex large parts of the West Bank , claims former White House senior adviser Jared Kushner in a new book slated for publication. later this month.
Kushner’s account, the latest reveal from a former Trump administration official to offer insight into the White House’s somewhat chaotic rollout of its 2020 peace plan, appears to contradict Friedman, who insisted when he posted his own memoir earlier this year that he was in tune with Kushner on the issue of annexation, which he personally supported.
“The accusation that I was running my own program with Netanyahu over [applying Israeli] sovereignty [to parts of the West Bank] and not telling the president, not letting anyone know, contrary to Jared’s wishes — that’s 100% wrong, 100% wrong,” Friedman told The Times of Israel in February.
But Kushner tells a different story in “Breaking History: A White House Memoir,” due out Aug. 23.
In it, Kushner recalls being enraged when Netanyahu used his speech at the January 2020 White House unveiling of the Trump peace plan to announce that the president had become the first world leader to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over a large part of the West Bank and that Israel is therefore preparing to annex all the settlements in the West Bank and the Jordan Valley.
For at least the next four years, Israel will maintain the status quo “in areas that your plan does not designate as part of Israel in the future,” Netanyahu told the US president. “Israel will preserve the possibility of peace.” Then the Prime Minister added: “At the same time, Israel will apply its laws to the Jordan Valley, to all Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria and to other areas that your plan designates as part of Israel and that the United States agreed to recognize it as part of Israel.
“It wasn’t what we bargained for,” Kushner writes.
“As part of our plan, we would eventually recognize Israel’s sovereignty over agreed areas if Israel takes steps to advance the Palestinian state in the territory we have defined,” he said, emphasizing the fact that US approval of Israeli annexation would take time and was not a foregone conclusion.
“I gripped my chair so hard that my knuckles turned white, as if my grip could make Bibi stop. I had explicitly asked the Israeli ambassador [to the US] Ron Dermer to make sure Bibi keeps his remarks brief and above the politics of the day,” Kushner continues. “Both in tone and substance, the speech was far from the truth. It contained nothing magnanimous or conciliatory towards the Palestinians. It was essentially a campaign speech for his national political audience, and it distorted our plan.
As Netanyahu’s speech stretches past 20 minutes, Kushner writes that he fears the annexation pledge will destroy his efforts to win support for the peace plan from Arab countries, three of which had sent ambassadors to the ceremony of unveiling.
In a break from previous US administrations, the Trump plan called for the creation of a semi-contiguous Palestinian state in about 70% of the West Bank, a handful of neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, most of Gaza and parts of southern Jerusalem. ‘Israel – if the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, disarm Hamas and other terrorist groups in the coastal enclave and fulfill other conditions.
The plan also allowed Israel to eventually annex each of its settlements, grants the Jewish state sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and overriding security control west of the Jordan; and prohibits Palestinian refugees from settling in Israel.
“I explained to them the peace proposal and gave them my word that [then-US president Donald] Trump would present a dignified and balanced proposal, one that required compromises from both sides. But that was definitely not the case Bibi was describing,” Kushner writes.
“If the deployment had gone as planned, it would have put [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas in an impossible position. Reacting harshly against a credible proposal would further alienate him while revealing the emptiness of his position. But the Israeli prime minister had given Abbas exactly the kind of opening he needed to reject our plan.
As he and the president returned to the Oval Office after the ceremony, a visibly disappointed Trump told him, “Bibi gave a campaign speech. I feel dirty,” according to Kushner’s memoir.
“It turned out that Ambassador David Friedman had assured Bibi that he would get the White House to support annexation more immediately. He hadn’t passed it on to me or anyone on my team,” Kushner writes.
Friedman went further after the ceremony, telling reporters that Israel ‘doesn’t have to wait at all’ for annexation and that the only limiting factor was ‘how long it takes them to get internal approvals’. .
Kushner writes that he then confronted Friedman, who insisted he had accurately represented Trump’s proposal. “Our conversation got heated and I took the plan out of the folder on my desk.”
“’Where does it say that here?’ I asked. ‘It is not said here. You are one of the best lawyers in the world. You know that’s not what we agreed on.
Kushner writes that Friedman responded by suggesting that he and Kushner “stay ambiguous and let Bibi say whatever he wants”, so they can see how it goes.
Kushner was unimpressed, responding that Friedman was unaware of the broader implications of Netanyahu’s claims.
“’You haven’t spoken to a single person from a country outside of Israel,’ I shot back. “You don’t have to deal with the British, you don’t have to deal with the Moroccans, and you don’t have to deal with the Saudis or the Emiratis, who all take my word for it and issue statements. I have to deal with the fallout of this. You don’t,” he wrote.
Friedman began to acknowledge the damage caused by Netanyahu’s speech and indicated he was ready to back down, Kushner writes, adding that he ordered the envoy to meet the Israeli prime minister and tell him that the United States would not support his plan to immediately annex the West Bank.
“Tell him…if we’re lucky, it didn’t completely kill my credibility with other countries, and I can still get the statements of support that I prepared,” Kushner told Friedman.
“To his credit, Friedman cleared up the misunderstanding with the Israelis and the media.”
Friedman told The Times of Israel on Sunday, “Jared and I have different memories of those turbulent days. But we agree that we have reconciled our differences in a way that has best served US-Israeli relations. I maintain my recollection of the events as set forth in my memoir, “Sledgehammer.”
The former ambassador also pointed to Trump’s own remarks at the unveiling ceremony in which he said the United States would “form a joint committee with Israel to convert the [peace plan’s] concept map in a more detailed and calibrated rendering so that the recognition [of Israeli sovereignty] can be reached immediately.
The fallout from the unveiling ceremony led to a deterioration in the administration’s ties with the Netanyahu government, with Israel’s Ambassador to Washington Ron Dermer then bursting into Kushner’s office to vent his frustration, Kushner writes.
Kushner took a dim view of Dermer’s conduct and replied, “‘Don’t take us for granted…We’ve worked hard for three years to get here. For the first time, Israel has high morals…. But now everything is screwed up. You think you’ve been so effective with this administration. I hate to tell you the truth, but we didn’t do any of this because you convinced us. We did them because we thought it was the right thing to do.
“Dermer saw he had gone too far. He apologized and left soon after, knowing it was up to them to clean up the political mess Bibi had created,” Kushner wrote.
Netanyahu eventually agreed to put annexation plans on hold later that year in exchange for normalizing relations with the United Arab Emirates — a deal brokered by Kushner and the Trump administration.
Netanyahu’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the claims in Kushner’s book.