Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2017 showed US President Donald Trump a potentially doctored video in which Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas seemed to call for the murder of children, in order to sway the American leader to the Israeli side, according journalist Bob Woodward’s explosive new book on the administration, “Rage.”
The US president was having “doubts about Netanyahu and wondering aloud if the Israeli prime minister might be the real problem,” according to Woodward. “Trump had even earlier said to Netanyahu on a Washington visit that he believed he was the obstacle to peace, not Abbas.”
Then, when Trump came to Israel in May 2017, Netanyahu presented him with a video of Abbas in which “it sounded like Abbas was ordering the murder of children.”
Netanyahu wondered: “And that’s the guy you want to help?”
Trump was disturbed by the video and called in then-secretary of state Rex Tillerson to watch the clip.
“Watch this! This is unbelievable! You’ve got to see this,” he said.
Tillerson watched the clip, but was highly skeptical. He later said he believed it had been crudely cut together using various bits of speech by Abbas.
After Netanyahu left the room, Tillerson told Trump: “Mr. President, you realize that the whole thing was fabricated?”
But Trump was unconvinced. “Well it’s not fabricated,” he said. “They got the guy on tape saying it.”
There are no known videos of Abbas calling for the murder of children.
When Trump traveled to Bethlehem the next day, according to Woodward, he lashed out at the Palestinian leader, calling him a “liar” and “murderer.” Elements of that exchange were reported at the time.
Woodward appears to insinuate in the book that the video played a part in Trump’s decisions in 2018 to close the Palestine Liberation Organization office in Washington and to cut almost all aid to the Palestinians. These have been widely seen as reactions to the Palestinians cutting ties with Washington over Trump’s decision in December 2017 to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Excerpts released from the book Friday claimed US Senator Lindsey Graham implored Trump not to assassinate senior Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, warning it would spark an “almost total war.”
Trump ordered the January 3 drone strike, which also killed Iraqi commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, following escalating tensions between the United States and Iran, against which Trump has imposed sweeping unilateral sanctions.
Four days before the strike, Trump discussed it with Graham while golfing in Florida.
Graham cautioned Trump against taking the “giant step,” which he characterized as “over the top.”
The strike heightened tensions between the US and Iran in the Gulf but did not ultimately escalate into a war.
Agencies contributed to this report.