During a 2017 meeting with then-president Reuven Rivlin, Donald Trump criticized then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his unwillingness to seek peace while Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was “desperate” for a deal, former US ambassador to Israel David Friedman said in his new book, according to a copy obtained by The Guardian.
In “Sledgehammer: How Breaking with the Past Brought Peace to the Middle East,” a memoir set to be published next week, the former American envoy said the comments stunned him and “knocked everyone off their chairs.”
“Although the meeting was private and off the record, we all envisioned a headline tomorrow that Trump had praised Abbas and criticized Netanyahu – the worst possible dynamic for the president’s popularity or for the prospects of the peace process,” Friedman wrote. “Fortunately, and incredibly, the event wasn’t leaked.”
The book also describes how during Trump’s next meeting with Netanyahu, Friedman showed a “two-minute collection of Abbas’s speeches that I thought was worth watching.”
According to the Guardian, the tape contained “two minutes of Abbas honoring terrorists, extolling violence, and vowing never to accept anything less than Israel’s total defeat.”
Friedman wrote that after the tape concluded, “the [US] president said, ‘Wow, is that the same guy I met in Washington last month? He seemed like such a sweet, peaceful guy.’ The tape had clearly made an impact.”
According to the Guardian, several top Trump advisers and officials disapproved of Friedman’s presentation of the clips.
“They thought it was a cheap propaganda trick,” he wrote, adding that he defended the move, telling them that, “I work for the president, and nobody else… I am going to make sure that he is well informed so that he gets Israel policy right.”
Commenting in the book on inflammatory remarks he had made — condemning what he said was then-president Barack Obama’s antisemitism and calling the dovish pro-Israel lobby group J Street “worse than kapos” — Friedman said they were not policy mistakes but simply tactical ones, as he says they “gave ammunition to critics in the Senate” during his Senate confirmation battle.
Regarding his comments on J Street, Friedman wrote that he used the controversial term kapos, Jewish prisoners who did the Nazis’ bidding, “because I felt that J Street had betrayed the Jewish people.”
The nomination of Friedman, formerly Trump’s bankruptcy lawyer, as US ambassador to Israel was a controversial one.
He was eventually confirmed by a 52-46 vote, while confirmations historically tended to be unanimous.
In “Sledgehammer,” the former envoy also spotlights his involvement in several major US policy changes made during his tenure, the Guardian said.
Among those were the close relationship between the Trump administration and Netanyahu, as well as the US giving more prominent support to West Bank settlements while cutting aid to the Palestinians.
Friedman also highlights Washington’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the US moving its embassy there, as well as the normalization agreements Israel signed with the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco in 2020.
The book’s name comes from the time when Friedman sledgehammered open a wall in 2019 at the unveiling of a new archaeological site in Jerusalem’s City of David, which lies underneath the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan. He drew fire for such a move given the city’s sensitive status quo.