Jared Kushner’s new tell-all book, due to be published on August 23 (Breaking History: A White House Memoir), has been leaked to both the American and Israeli media (and presumably to all the other media roaming the earth), and, interestingly, the news folks in both countries took very different elements from the leak. In the States, it was all about the presidential son-in-law’s tense relationship with the man who rescued the Trump campaign in 2016, Steve Bannon. On the Israeli side of the water, it was about how unenthusiastic then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had been about Trump’s plan to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s eternal capital city and move the US embassy there.
Mind you, we’re working from the Hebrew translations of Kushner’s leaked stuff, so the reader should allow for nuances borne by innate hostilities and wishful thinking. Yedioth Aharonoth’s version presents Kushner’s recollection of the phone conversation between Trump and Netanyahu on December 5, 2017, one day before the president’s historic Jerusalem declaration (קושנר פרסם ספר: עקב תגובת נתניהו – טראמפ כמעט ביטלאת הכרזת ירושלים).
Kushner said that Netanyahu’s lukewarm response disappointed Trump, who had not given in to the pressure exerted by his national security team, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis, and sided instead with Kushner and Ambassador David Friedman, who supported the embassy transfer.
“If you choose to do this, I will support you,” Kushner recalled Netanyahu saying to Trump.
Trump, who believed that Netanyahu had not fully understood his magnanimous gesture, repeated his statement, saying he would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the embassy there.
“Once again, Bibi responded less enthusiastically than expected,” Kushner recalls in his book.
As the conversation continued, Trump––according to Kushner––began to have second thoughts. “He wondered aloud why he was taking such a risk if the Prime Minister of Israel didn’t think it was important,” Kushner writes. “Trump’s voice became harsher and he said: ‘Bibi, I think you are the problem.'”
Netanyahu, according to Kushner’s book, insisted he was part of the solution.
“You could see that Trump was frustrated,” Kushner wrote.
A day later, Trump announced his decision and refused to answer angry phone calls from outraged Arab leaders.
Before we get to Netanyahu’s denial, let’s agree that even if everything Kushner documents took place, Netanyahu’s response was understandable, even commendable. Bibi, like the rest of us, was not against the US recognizing Jerusalem as the eternal city of the Jewish State, he was mostly worried about the costs. To remind you, the Jerusalem declaration, as well as the embassy move, were limited to the western part of the city. The circumstances of the declaration involved Kushner’s assignment to bring peace to the Middle East using mostly carrots and almost no sticks, including wooing the rich Arab states to shower the Palestinian Authority with gold in exchange for political concessions. None of it worked, thanks mostly to the reluctance of the rich Arabs to part with $50 billion because Kushner was asking, and even more so, the folks in Ramallah made it clear that the economic welfare of their people is nothing to them, what they want is a state.
Having gifted Bibi with the Jerusalem thing, Trump could now squeeze the Israeli leader hard for concessions he was not prepared to make and could spell the end of his political career.
Netanyahu’s denial was predictable and, I must admit, inevitable: “Contrary to what was claimed, Netanyahu, who asked President Trump to move the embassy several times, expressed great appreciation for this decision. President Trump told Prime Minister Netanyahu before making the decision: ‘I have people who say that this step is dangerous for the US, what do you think?’ Netanyahu replied to the president that he sees no real danger and that there is no reason not to move the embassy. It is doubtful that had Prime Minister Netanyahu replied to the president otherwise the transfer of the embassy would have been carried out.”
As I mentioned, Kushner also recalls his clashes with Steve Bannon in his new book, calling their relationship “toxic.” Bannon accused Kushner of “undermining the President’s agenda,” and threatened the son-in-law: “…if you go against me, I will break you in half. Don’t [expletive] with me.”
For an excellent rundown of those events, I recommend Ariel Kahana’s “Sovereignty over Judea and Samaria: Where Did it All Go Wrong?” which The Jewish Press ran on February 16, 2021, after the fall of the Trump presidency. Kahana blames Kushner for derailing what had been a sincere, even majestic effort on the part of President Trump, coaxed by Ambassador Friedman––one of Israel’s greatest patriots––to establish Israeli sovereignty in Area C of Judea and Samaria.
In other words, if Netanyahu was less than enthusiastic about the Jerusalem declaration, he had one profound reason: Jared Kushner.