Aug 3, 2022 - World

Kushner: Friedman went behind our backs on Bibi annexation plans

Trump signs an order recognizing Golan Heights as Israeli territory. Photo: Michael Reynolds - Pool/Getty Images
Kushner, Netanyahu, Friedman, and other U.S. officials watch as Trump signs an order recognizing the Golan Heights as Israeli territory on March 25, 2019. Photo: Michael Reynolds/Getty Images

Jared Kushner writes in his new book that in early 2020, then-U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman promised then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the Trump administration would support Israel swiftly annexing parts of the occupied West Bank, but didn’t tell the White House about it.

Why it matters: The crisis that broke out over Netanyahu’s surprise annexation announcement was a watershed moment in the relationship between former President Trump and Netanyahu.

  • It was also a major internal policy struggle within Trump’s inner circle.
  • Over the last year, Friedman has denied stories, including those published on Axios and in my book, “Trump’s Peace,” that he acted on Israel's annexation plans behind the White House's back. Kushner confirms those stories in his book, "Breaking History," out Aug. 23.

Flashback: In a Jan. 28, 2020 speech announcing his peace plan for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Trump said the U.S. would support Israel annexing areas of the West Bank as part of the plan's implementation, but didn’t say when.

  • Immediately after the ceremony, Friedman told reporters that Israel could begin its annexation plans right away. Shortly after that, Netanyahu announced he would pass a resolution in his Cabinet on annexation in five days.
  • Trump and Kushner were caught off guard by both Netanyahu’s announcement and Friedman’s briefing to the press, and made it clear to the two of them that annexation could not happen immediately.

Kushner describes how it went down in his book:

  • “As it turned out Friedman had assured Bibi that he would get the White House to support annexation more immediately. He had not conveyed to me or anyone on my team."
  • Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser adds that he confronted Friedman, who then claimed he had accurately represented Trump’s plan.
  • “Our conversation got heated and I pulled out the plan from the folder on my desk. ‘Where does it say that in here?’, I asked. ‘It doesn’t say that here. You are one of the best lawyers in the world. You know that’s not what we agreed to."

Friedman eventually agreed to withdraw his previous statement and tell Netanyahu he couldn't move forward with annexation.

  • “Behind the scenes, our relationship with the Israeli government had reached its lowest point to date. I felt like I was trying to move the Israelis forward and build partnerships with the broader world while they were stuck on internal politics," Kushner writes.

The other side: In his book, “Sledgehammer,” Friedman downplayed the efforts he made with Netanyahu to push for a swift annexation move and said everything he did was coordinated with Kushner.

  • He portrayed what happened as a misunderstanding between him and Kushner, Netanyahu, and the Israeli prime minister's advisers. Friedman told Axios this week that he stands by his recollection of events as stated in his memoir.
  • “Jared and I had a misunderstanding on the timing, but not the substance, of the sovereignty deal with Israel," he told Axios. "We had some heated discussions commensurate with the stress of the moment. In the end, however, we resolved our differences in a manner that best served the interests of both the U.S. and Israel."

🎧 Go deeper: Listen to the "How it Happened: Trump's Big Deal" podcast.

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