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Netanyahu unites US presidents: even Trump detests him

Eetta Prince-Gibson
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Netanyahu unites US presidents: even Trump detests him

Published: 18 August 2023

Last updated: 5 March 2024

Trump's Peace, just released in English, explores the ongoing implications of the Abraham Accords. Author BARAK RAVID talks to EETTA PRINCE-GIBSON.  

The Abraham Accords between United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Israel three years ago mark the biggest breakthrough in Middle East peace in 25 years, according to Israeli journalist Barak Ravid. "I wanted to be the person to first write as detailed as possible an account of how these accords came about," he says.

Ravid’s findings are presented in his book, Trump's Peace: The Abraham Accords and The Reshaping of the Middle East, published in Hebrew in 2021 and in English this year. Methodically researched, meticulously documented, carefully edited, and including a total of two hours of individual interviews with former US president Donald Trump, Ravid brings anecdotes, pictures, and his own analyses to reveal how high-minded ideology and pragmatic diplomacy, along with childlike animosities and out-sized egos, coalesced into the agreement signed on the White House lawn in September 2020.

Ravid, who relocated from Israel to Washington, DC, this month, is the political correspondent for the Axios News website and diplomatic correspondent for Israel's Walla! News. He is renowned for his network of contacts, through which he regularly breaks exclusive, and accurate, news.  Between unpacking and reporting, Ravid provided an exclusive Zoom interview with The Jewish Independent. Quickly and almost imperceptibly switching from Hebrew to English and back again, his answers are focused, measured, and well-organised. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly takes credit for the Abraham Accords as a vindication of his "outside-in" policies, through which Israel would first create peace with the Arab nations in the region and only then with the Palestinians. Yet Ravid reveals that just before the accords were about to be published, Netanyahu got cold feet and tried to prevent them from happening. And the title of the book, Trump's Peace, hints broadly at Ravid's thoughts about the accords' real mover.

By appointing someone he trusted, Trump showed that he cared. When you spoke with Kushner, you were speaking with the President's family. That's a whole different level of diplomacy. 

"The title isn't a way to say that Netanyahu didn't do anything at all," he says carefully. "He did, and he deserves credit for the outside-in idea. But without Trump, it would have been impossible to reach the agreement at that particular point in time."

Ravid cites three reasons for his assessment. "First, by the end of Obama's administration, there was a gap in trust between the United States, the Gulf States and Israel. You can think, as I do, that Trump's withdrawal from the nuclear deal was a mistake, but the fact is that he was able to close that trust gap. Second, Trump appointed his closest confidantes to run this program, including, of course, his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. 

“There was a lot of criticism about this, but appointing someone he trusted showed that he cared, that he was willing to put political capital behind the effort, and that when you spoke with Kushner, you were speaking with the president's family. That's a whole different level of diplomacy. 

The Jewish Independent

"And finally," Ravid says, "Trump was ready to put his hand in his pocket and provide tangible deliverables, so each country got something and had an incentive to take this last step.”

Yet he is not surprised that now, under the Biden administration, Saudi Arabia may also be joining the accords. "Biden endorsed the accords several minutes after they were announced, even though he was running against Trump," Ravid notes. "But at the beginning, Biden's administration didn't know how to even digest them – in the first nine months, the administration just referred to them as 'The Normalisation Accords’."

By the end of his first year, Biden changed course, which Ravid attributes to geopolitics. "Biden wants to restrict China's power throughout the world, and the Middle East is a big part of this," Ravid explains. "For the administration, the Saudi issue is first and foremost a China issue and only secondarily a Middle East or Iranian issue.  Normalisation is the cherry on the top of the cake; the cake is that Saudi Arabia will be on the US's side for years to come.

“Also, oil prices went up because of the war in Ukraine, and the Gulf States are key to bringing those prices down. So Biden quickly changed course from treating the Saudis as a pariah state to a state with which he is courting agreements."

With regards to the interests of the Gulf States, Ravid continues: "Like many, I thought that the Abraham accords are primarily a military alliance between Israel and the Arab States.  But through my research I realised that Israel is not merely an ally against Iran; Israel can support the Gulf States as they change their priorities. The accords are as much about Israeli civilian technology, economics, trade, tourism as they are about anything else."

With regard to the Palestinians, he says that they responded to the accords with a temper tantrum, rejecting all aspects of the agreements, returning their ambassadors and breaking off contacts with the US. "That has not served them well. What they should be doing is using the Saudis to bring pressure on Israel to make concessions."

"The Palestinians responded to the accords with a temper tantrum. That has not served them well. What they should be doing is using the Saudis to bring pressure on Israel to make concessions."

Crucially, he believes, the Abraham Accords could change the way Arabs and Israelis view each other, but at this point they are in what he refers to as "a crisis mode”.

"The Gulf States are trying to go down the path of moderation and more openness, but Netanyahu has appointed racist, Jewish supremacist elements to the highest echelons, many of whom are openly xenophobic, homophobic and misogynist.

“The Gulf States look at Israel and see that we are going backwards and wonder what Israel really has to offer. In the last seven months there have been almost no high-level engagements between Israeli and Emirati, Bahraini, or Moroccan officials.  The Negev Forum is also frozen.

"I don't believe the accords will collapse, but they will become a cold peace, like we have with Jordan and Egypt. This missed opportunity will take years to fix," he warns.

Ravid readily acknowledges that he was surprised at Trump's open demeanour and generosity with his time. He contrasts this with Netanyahu, who refused Ravid's repeated requests for interviews.

"Netanyahu has checked-out on the Israeli press and thinks he can use social media and his mouthpieces in the mainstream media. But it doesn't matter, because the opportunity to have a real interview with Netanyahu is non-existent, he doesn't engage. Interviewing him would be like speaking to a ChatGPT.

"Netanyahu has appointed racist, Jewish supremacist elements, many of whom are openly xenophobic, homophobic and misogynist. The Gulf States look at Israel and see that we are going backwards and wonder what Israel really has to offer."

Indeed, Trump's candour led to some of the exposés that caught most of the public's attention when the book was originally published in Hebrew.

Both men, and especially Netanyahu, cultivated an image of a deep personal and professional bromance. But according to Ravid, this was at best a façade that served them both, and early on in their various meetings, Trump developed a dislike for Netanyahu, whom he views as self-serving, disloyal and untrustworthy.

Trump was annoyed by Netanyahu’s attempts to use his plans as a vehicle to annex occupied Palestinian territories, despite his administration's objections, and Netanyahu's attitude towards Iran. “Trump was mad at Netanyahu and said that the Israelis are willing to fight Iran until the last American soldier stands,” a US official is quoted as saying in the book. The president was also increasingly impatient with Netanyahu’s inability to pull out a decisive victory in repeated Israeli elections despite the US administration’s political freebies to the Israeli Right. 

The Jewish Independent

Trump appeared to be particularly incensed by a video released by Netanyahu on January 20, the day Biden was inaugurated, in which Netanyahu said he and Biden had a "warm personal friendship going back many decades".

"Nobody did more for Bibi. And I liked Bibi. I still like Bibi," Trump told Ravid, referring to Netanyahu by his nickname. "But I also like loyalty ... Bibi could have stayed quiet. He has made a terrible mistake.

"I haven't spoken to him since. F—- him," Trump concluded.

Ravid points out that Netanyahu possesses the rare talent "to create a consensus [of antipathy towards Netanyahu] between former presidents [Bill] Clinton, [Barack] Obama, and Trump – and probably Biden, too.  It tells you something about Netanyahu's mode of operation, trying to manipulate everyone.  It's worked for him many times, and he'll keep doing it even when it stops working, because people don't change very much at his age."

Yet Netanyahu is still on the political stage and Trump has every intention of returning to that stage. Ravid is sure that if Trump is re-elected, they will find a way "to patch things up. Bibi will come and kiss Trump's ring, and maybe Trump will humiliate him some more, but in the end, they need each other."

"Nobody did more for Bibi. And I liked Bibi. I still like Bibi. But I also like loyalty ... Bibi could have stayed quiet. He has made a terrible mistake."

Trump in interview with Ravid

Trump's candour also pointed to his use of broad antisemitic tropes, including dual loyalty, conspiracy theories that Jews control the media and offensive comments about Jewish money.

"The vast majority of Jewish people that Trump worked with over the years were conservative and ultra-Orthodox,” Ravid explains. “Trump doesn't understand the relationship between the majority of American Jews and Israel. If he did understand, he would not have been surprised or disappointed that the overwhelming majority of them voted for Biden.

"Trump thinks he did so much for 'the Jewish people' – and it's not as if all of the Jews who voted for Biden were against moving the embassy to Jerusalem or against the Abraham Accords. He really doesn't understand that the majority of American Jews are voting for liberal values, not for Israel."

Although Trump's and others' salacious declarations brought much attention to his book, Ravid does not focus on them in the interview. But with regard to Israel's government, he admits, "I'm not expressing an opinion here, and all you need is a pulse to see: the government is weakening Israel's democratic institutions and its liberal character. That is a statement of fact."

Nor does he pay attention to criticisms that he is "washing Israel's dirty laundry for the world to see".

"Does anyone really think that if I don't report on what this government is doing, the world won't know? And anyway, no one in the government is trying to hide its racist, anti-liberal, anti-democratic, xenophobic and other dirt – the government is proudly hanging out the laundry on the porch, for everyone to see.

"My only job is to write new, interesting, accurate and fair stories. And that is what I am doing."

About the author

Eetta Prince-Gibson

Eetta Prince-Gibson, who lives in Jerusalem, was previously Editor-in-Chief of The Jerusalem Report, is the Israel Editor for Moment Magazine and a regular contributor to Haaretz, The Forward, PRI, and other Israeli and international publications.

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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