Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, pen in hand, at his Knesset seat during a plenum session on October 11, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Main image: Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, pen in hand, at his Knesset seat during a plenum session on October 11, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
12 key themes, claims and revelations in the autobiography

In Netanyahu’s new book, Obama’s disrespect, an Afghan invite, the annexation fiasco

Former and would-be PM also dishes on Clinton, Biden and Barak, thanks an army colleague for saving his life, and admits he wrote part of his memoir in the Knesset during debates

Main image: Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, pen in hand, at his Knesset seat during a plenum session on October 11, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In his new memoir, “Bibi: My Story,” published on Tuesday, the former and would-be prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu details his military and political careers, with a particular focus on the succession of United States presidents with whom he has interacted.

He castigates former US president Barack Obama as having been deeply wrongheaded on both the Palestinian issue and the Iranian nuclear drive, and disrespectful to him as the prime minister of Israel.

He reveals what he says was Bill Clinton’s admission to him that the US administration did everything it could in a failed attempt to prevent his first election victory, in 1996.

He details how Joe Biden helped mitigate his conflicts with the Obama administration when serving as vice president, and claims Biden as president acknowledged to him during last year’s Gaza conflict that the Democratic party was no longer as staunchly pro-Israel as previously.

And he offers his narrative for the chain of events that saw something go “terribly wrong” with his plan to annex 30 percent of the West Bank within the framework of former US president Donald Trump’s 2020 Israeli-Palestinian peace proposal.

Netanyahu, who is hoping to return to power in the November 1 elections, also takes aim at the Naftali Bennett-Yair Lapid coalition that ousted him in 2021, and disputes his former rival and former ministerial colleague Ehud Barak’s account of a celebrated rescue operation carried out by their Sayeret Matkal elite IDF unit 50  years ago.

The book shifts between the personal and public life of Israel’s longest-serving leader, part contemplative review, part political sermon, peppered with inside tidbits on national and global wheeling and dealing, warm reflections on family life, and searing admonitions of his opponents and those he believes are still scheming against him.

Here are 12 of the key themes, revelations and assessments in Netanyahu’s autobiography.

1.  Netanyahu thanks an IDF colleague for saving his life

More than 50 years after the event, Netanyahu offers a belated thanks to a colleague in the Sayeret Matkal elite IDF unit who saved his life during an operation at the Suez Canal in early 1968.

They were crossing the canal in Zodiac rubber boats when their unit came under fire, and Netanyahu told his fellow soldiers they would be safer in the water. Jumping in, Netanyahu forgot that he was carrying a 20-kilo ammunition pack on his back. He began to sink, twice made it back to the surface, and had “extended my hand upward” in a last desperate effort when he was saved.

For decades, though, he never knew who had grabbed his hand, until he received a message, indirectly, from his savior, Israel Nir: “Nir wrote: ‘I was seated next to Bibi on the second boat when the shots were fired. We all jumped promptly into the Canal. Unfortunately, Bibi was carrying MAG ammunition on his back. He sank like a rock. Noticing that he was underwater and unable to float back up, I grabbed him and pulled him up enabling him to breathe. Others then helped me pull him into the boat.'”

Netanyahu continues: “Many decades later, I offer a belated and much deserved thanks also to my fellow soldier Israel Nir.”

2. He claims Ehud Barak was merely a ‘bystander’ in the Sabena rescue

Netanyahu slams former prime minister Ehud Barak, saying the highly decorated military commander overplayed his role in the rescue of passengers after Palestinian terrorists hijacked Belgian Sabena Airlines flight 571 at Lod Airport (now Ben Gurion Airport) in May 1972.

Then-Lieutenant Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with President Zalman Shazar at the President’s Residence on November 1, 1972 (GPO/Flash90)

Barak commanded the Sayeret Matkal special forces unit that carried out the rescue. Netanyahu was a team leader in the unit and participated in the operation, during which he was injured by so-called friendly fire.

“That rescue was celebrated in Israel. We sixteen soldiers were taken to meet the president, Zalman Shazar, and given other honors. Due to the Unit’s secrecy, our identities were kept in the dark. But this did not apply to Ehud Barak, who made sure that leading journalists would write glowingly about him,” Netanyahu writes.

Netanyahu claims that Barak was a minor player when the operation was actually carried out, but used his role in the rescue for political gain.

“Down the years, Barak made much political hay of the Sabena rescue, repeatedly publicizing a photo of himself disembarking the plane in white overalls, not bothering to let people know that he didn’t personally storm the plane,” Netanyahu writes.

“He was a bystander. His only role in storming the plane was standing on the tarmac and blowing a whistle.”

Ehud Barak, left, disguised as an aircraft technician during the 1972 Sabena hijacking, at Lod Airport (Ron Ilan/Israel Defense Forces Archive)

3. He says Clinton admitted trying to prevent his 1996 election victory

Netanyahu devotes much of his book to his dealings with US presidents, beginning with Bill Clinton.

He says that Clinton, whom he calls frank, charming and practical, cheerfully admitted to trying to prevent Netanyahu’s first prime ministerial victory in 1996, which came in the aftermath of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.

“Among the first to call and congratulate me on my election victory was President Clinton,” he writes. “‘Bibi, I’ve got to hand it to you.’ He chuckled. ‘We did everything we could to bring you down, but you beat us fair and square.'”

He says he found the Clinton administration to be totally in the grip of the “Palestinian Centrality Theory.” This approach, he elaborates, “held that Palestinian grievances were the heart of ‘the Middle East conflict,’ ignoring the conflicts in the Middle East that had nothing to do with Israel. White House officials simply refused to believe that Palestinian violations of Oslo were rooted in a refusal to genuinely recognize Israel, arguing instead that Palestinian  grievances were rooted in the expansion of Israeli settlements, just as they believed that Syrian antagonism to Israel was rooted in our presence on the Golan.”

Here and elsewhere in the book, Netanyahu is acerbic in critiquing this kind of approach, which “flew in the face of facts.” He writes: “You didn’t need to be a genius to understand that as long as the Palestinians and others clung to an ideology hell-bent on destroying Israel, Israeli withdrawals wouldn’t advance peace. Rather, they advanced terror and war because the territories we vacated were taken over by forces committed to our destruction who used it launch attacks against Israel.”

Clinton’s aides, “mostly Jewish,” didn’t let the facts get in their way, he carps. “The reason withdrawals didn’t produce peace, they argued, was not that the underlying Palestinian goal was to eliminate Israel but that there hadn’t been enough withdrawals. This led to their second inescapable conclusion. To get more withdrawals they needed to overcome the real ‘obstacle to peace,’ namely, me. American policy was therefore geared to place maximum pressure on me to withdraw from territory or to remove me from office, something they had failed to do in the recent elections but would seek to do again next time around.”

US President Bill Clinton (center), Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat at a trilateral meeting at the Erez Crossing between Israel and Gaza, December 1995 (Avi Ohayun/GPO)

Netanyahu also states firmly that Clinton had promised to release spy-for-Israel Jonathan Pollard before the 1998 Wye Plantation summit with the US president and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, but reneged “in the concluding hours of the conference, as the final communiqué was being drafted.”

“I’m sorry to drop this on you,” Netanyahu says Clinton told him. “But I can’t release Pollard. I’m getting enormous pushback from the Pentagon and the CIA. George Tenet [the CIA director] threatened to resign. I just can’t do it.”

Pollard was finally released in 2015, and immigrated to Israel in 2020. Netanyahu met him at the airport.

Then prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) greets US spy-for-Israel Jonathan Pollard (C) at Ben Gurion Airport, December 30, 2020 (Courtesy)

Quick to congratulate him in 1996, Clinton was also reassuring three years later, “in his usual cheery way,” when Netanyahu lost the 1999 elections to Ehud Barak.

“You’ll be back,” Clinton told him in a phone call.

Netanyahu writes, “Sara agreed. I doubted it.”

4. He felt ‘mistreated and disrespected’ by Obama

Netanyahu paints the years of the Barack Obama presidency as a sustained, bruising struggle between himself and the Democratic leader, whom he characterizes as idealistic and driven but also aloof, disdainful, ignorant of Middle East realities and far too willing to appease Israel’s rivals — both in Ramallah and in Tehran.

At one point, in the context of 2010’s Mavi Marmara incident — when a flotilla set out to break Israel’s naval blockade on Gaza, Israeli commandos boarded the ship and were violently attacked; in the course of the melee 10 Turkish activists were killed — he accuses Obama of removing the diplomatic “shield” from Israel because of misguided concern over the US’s international legitimacy. “He didn’t see the US as taking a leading position and having the other nations follow. Rather, he felt that America should ‘lead from behind,'” Netanyahu charges.

On the Palestinians, from the start of his presidency, “no matter what I said, no matter what conciliatory gestures I made, the Obama juggernaut would try to steamroll me to a Palestinian state more or less on the 1967 lines,” Netanyahu writes. Ultimately, he says he was told that Obama “had given [Palestinian Authority President] Mahmoud Abbas a secret commitment to establish a full-fledged Palestinian state before he left office.”

When the two first met in 2007, Netanyahu writes, the future US leader struck him as “highly focused, gracious and an attentive listener.” But as Obama moved along the path to the presidency, he says he increasingly saw warning signs regarding the American politician’s worldview, including “his tendency to view the world through an anti-colonialist prism.”

“I felt sure Obama wasn’t familiar with the historical record that showed that if any ‘colonialism’ was involved in the case of Israel, it was the colonialism practiced centuries earlier by invading Arabs against the natives of the land they displaced, the Jews,” he writes.

He says he was alarmed by Obama’s comments during the 2008 primary in which he believed he took “a swipe” at his Likud party.

“There is a strain within the pro-Israel community,” Obama told Jewish leaders in Cleveland then, “that says unless you adopt an unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel that you’re anti-Israel, and that can’t be the measure of our friendship with Israel.”

Netanyahu saw this as a clear overstep, potentially showing favor toward one side of Israeli politics over another (something he himself would later be accused of doing in US politics).

“During nearly thirty years in public life I studiously avoided any reference to America’s two political parties, except in the context of highlighting the bipartisan support for the Israeli-American alliance,” Netanyahu writes. “I certainly avoided taking a swipe at any one of them. This was not done, and yet Obama just did it.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) talks with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office, May 18, 2009. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

During their first White House meeting in 2009, Netanyahu says Obama “took the gloves off.”

“With staff present, he made it clear that the US would not tolerate further stalling or obstructions in the peace process, leaving no doubt which party he thought was responsible for such things.”

Netanyahu says he felt the president engaged in “a premeditated shock-and-awe” effort to make clear that past pressures on Israeli leaders on issues pertaining to the Middle East conflict “would pale in comparison to the ones that would be applied to me.”

‘The prime minister of Israel was being treated as a minor thug in the neighborhood’

Netanyahu says Obama later told him privately: “I expect you to immediately freeze all construction in the areas beyond the 1967 borders. Not one brick!”

“‘Barack,’” I said, “‘half of Jerusalem’s residents live beyond those lines. That alone includes almost two hundred thousand people. Do you expect us to stop building in neighborhoods like Gilo? These are integral parts of Jerusalem, like Georgetown is part of Washington.’”

“‘That’s exactly what I mean,’” he said. “‘Not one brick, anywhere. Gilo, too.’”

“Evidently Obama and his staff wanted to stun me into submission by making clear that the rules had changed,” Netanyahu writes.

He says he told Obama “that his draconian demands” to halt all construction, including in East Jerusalem, “were both morally wrong and counterproductive, that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was rooted in the Palestinian refusal to accept a Jewish state and not in the settlements, that choking off a quarter of a million people was neither just nor feasible — all this fell on deaf ears.”

He then says that as the two prepared to leave the Oval Office, Obama told him: “You know, people often underestimate me. But I come from Chicago, where I had to deal with tough opponents.”

The cover of Benjamin Netanyahu’s autobiography, ‘Bibi: My Story,’ published October 2022 (Courtesy)

Netanyahu then cryptically adds, “He then said something out of character that shocked me deeply.” He does not specify what Obama said, but calls the message “unmistakable,” “offensive” and “highly disturbing. The prime minister of Israel was being treated as a minor thug in the neighborhood.”

“It was this sense that the elected leader of a proud four-thousand-year-old nation was being mistreated and disrespected that got me back on my feet. ‘Mr. President,’ I said slowly, ‘I’m sure that you mean what you said. But I am the prime minister of Israel and I’ll do whatever I need to do to defend my country.”

Two years later, braced for another bruising White House encounter with Obama on the Palestinian issue, Netanyahu says he prepared a four-minute response about why Israel would never agree to the return to the pre-1967 lines, with land swaps, that Obama was pushing. He admits to having his prepared language softened by aides to avoid coming off as disrespectful.

“‘It’s not going to happen,’” I said to the president and to the world [in the Oval Office in 2011]. “‘A peace based on illusion will crash on the rocks of Middle Eastern realities. For there to be peace, the Palestinians will have to recognize some basic realities.’”

Obama — and particularly his aides — didn’t take the public lecture well, with Netanyahu writing that one White House staffer whispered in real-time to Israeli ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, “Does your boss always lecture people in their office?”

“Only when they kick his country in their teeth,” Dermer replied.

5. He realized in 2013 there was almost no chance of Obama hitting Iran

Netanyahu says that as well as Obama’s commitment to the formation of a Palestinian state “minimizing the consequences for Israel’s security,” the American leader also took a “soft line” on Iran.

Netanyahu claims that Obama’s negotiations with Iran were based on his time as a community activist in Chicago, where he would “seek out the bully” and try to cut a deal.

Obama worked for a number of years as the head of a community organization that helped struggling Chicago neighborhoods, carrying out community action such as leading a sit-in to demand a cleanup of lethal asbestos in public housing projects.

“True to his experience as a community organizer in Chicago’s neighborhoods, Obama would seek out the bully, cut a deal with him, and thereby pacify the neighborhood,” Netanyahu writes, without further clarification.

“The fact that Obama avoided taking a tough stance against mass murder in Iran’s streets and hid the negotiations with Iran [on what became the 2015 nuclear deal] from America’s close ally, Israel, spoke volumes about where he was tilting,” the former Israeli premier says.

During the US president’s 2013 visit to Israel, Netanyahu says, he came to recognize that Obama was highly unlikely to use military force to stop Iran’s nuclear program.

US President Barack Obama (left) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Ben Gurion Airport, March 20, 2013 (Avi Ohayon/GPO/Flash90)

He says he pushed Obama “again for an American strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities,” arguing that the US could “still stop Iran from developing atomic bombs that would endanger America, Israel and the peace of the entire world. An American action now would give an enormous boost to the standing of the US and its president. Obama’s response floored me,” he recalls.

“‘Bibi,’” he said, “‘Nobody likes Goliath. I don’t want to be an eight-hundred-pound gorilla strutting on the world stage. For too long we acted that way. We need to lead in a different way.’”

Netanyahu says he was “stunned. In the Middle East as I knew it, with Iran racing to nuclear weapons, and with the shifting geopolitical balance toward Asia, I would want to be a 1,200-pound gorilla, not an 800-pound one.”

‘Bibi, Obama said, Nobody likes Goliath. I don’t want to be an eight-hundred-pound gorilla strutting on the world stage. For too long we acted that way. We need to lead in a different way’

Netanyahu also realized at this point “that the chances of an American military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities under Obama were practically nil. Even if he built an American military option, he was unlikely to use it preemptively. And the Iranians would know it. This meant he would conduct negotiations with them on their nuclear capabilities without the most important card up his sleeve.”

Summing up Obama later in the book, Netanyahu calls him “one of the most gifted political leaders I had met. He was intellectually sharp, knew what he wanted to achieve, and was focused on his mission. Contrary to common lore, I never believed that the core of our conflict derived from a personality clash, at least not from my end.”

But, he goes on, “In the extreme, Obama’s espousal of the Palestinian narrative manifested itself not only in flawed policy but also in personal attacks. He disregarded our history and disrespected Israel’s elected leader, who dared to disagree with him. I doubt that he applied the language and tactics he used against me to many, if any, other world leaders.”

In a particularly biting passage, Netanyahu writes: “Obama and members of his administration constantly disparaged the motives for my opposition to the deal in briefings to the press. To them, I was a narrow-minded small-time politician maneuvering for my personal political survival. One even briefed an American journalist that I was little more than a ‘chickenshit.’ This from people who never risked their lives a day on a battlefield and whose political survival in America’s presidential system could be challenged only once in four years and not every week, as in Israel’s parliamentary system.”

6. He says he tricked Egyptian security forces into saving Israelis at the embassy

On September 9, 2011, months after the ousting of Egypt’s president  Hosni Mubarak during the so-called Arab Spring, thousands of protesters were threatening to storm the Israeli Embassy in Cairo and kill the small Israeli team inside. Netanyahu writes that a desperate ruse saved their lives.

“The protesters had broken the outer fence and were about to penetrate the building. It was just a matter of time before they reached the embassy floor,” Netanyahu writes. “I made contact with the Israelis inside the embassy and spoke to the man in charge. “‘What’s your name?’” I asked. “‘Yoni,’ he answered” — the same name as Netanyahu’s beloved older brother, who commanded Sayeret Matkal and was the only IDF fatality in the 1976 Entebbe rescue. “I was stunned.”

Netanyahu goes on: “Once again, in Africa, Israelis needed to be rescued from death. But now it wasn’t Yoni who would rescue them but Yoni who needed rescue. I had to find a way to get him and his colleagues out in time. “‘Prime Minister,’” Yoni said, “‘we’re in the inner room. If they break through the outer door we placed furniture as barricades to delay them. We’ve got some Uzis — we’ll fight to the end.’

“‘Yoni,’” I said, “‘hang in there. We’ll get you out of there.’ I had no idea how I would do that.”

Egyptian protesters demolish a concrete wall protecting the Israeli embassy in Cairo, September 9, 2011 (photo credit: AP/Amr Nabil)
Egyptian protesters demolish a concrete wall protecting the Israeli embassy in Cairo, September 9, 2011. (AP/Amr Nabil)

As the rioters entered the building, Shin Bet chief Yoram Cohen was on the phone with the head of the local Egyptian security forces, urging him in vain to intervene.

Netanyahu had an idea: “‘Tell him,’” I said, “‘that Israeli helicopters are en route to Cairo right now.’” This was a ruse. I had sent two helicopters to Cairo’s airport to pick up the families of the Israeli staff. But I wanted the Egyptian security forces to believe that an Israeli commando unit would land on top of the building and carry out a rescue in the heart of Cairo, an unacceptable embarrassment for them.

“At Cohen’s urging and direction, the Egyptian security forces went into action. They entered the building. The rioters were about to smash through the outer doors of the embassy office. They were stopped in the nick of time. Yoni and his colleagues were saved.”

7. He says Kerry invited him to Afghanistan to see US-trained forces

During John Kerry’s term as secretary of state, the US proposed training Palestinian Authority security forces to police Palestinian areas in a Palestinian state, and Kerry cited training the US doing in Afghanistan as proof of the idea’s viability. He went so far as to invite Netanyahu to visit Afghanistan and see for himself.

Netanyahu recalls responding that shortly after Israel left Gaza, those same Palestinian Authority security forces caved to Hamas terrorists.

“This is different,” Kerry retorted. “These forces would be trained by us.”

The US secretary then issued his Afghanistan invite: “Bibi, I want to arrange a clandestine visit for you to Afghanistan. You’ll see with your own eyes what a great job we did there to prepare the Afghan army to take over the country once we leave.”

“John,” Netanyahu responded, “the minute you leave Afghanistan the Taliban will mop up the force you trained in no time.”

Indeed, he goes on, in 2021, “that is exactly what happened. Once the US withdrew its last forces, the US-trained Afghan military crumbled into dust in a matter of days.”

A Taliban fighter sits in the cockpit of an Afghan Air Force aircraft at the airport in Kabul on August 31, 2021, after the US pulled all its troops out of the country (Photo by Wakil KOHSAR / AFP)

Netanyahu writes: “The United States could afford to leave Afghanistan, albeit with tragic consequences for the Afghan people, who would again be subjugated by the Taliban, because that country was thousands of miles away from America. But an Israeli withdrawal from large areas in Judea and Samaria would place the Islamists a few thousand meters from all of our major cities.”

He elaborates: “US officials repeatedly underestimated the power of the Islamists and overestimated the power of their non-Islamist allies. Unless you have forces with an equal commitment to fight and die to defend their country, the Islamists eventually win. As long as Israeli forces held on to territories adjoining Israel, the Islamists would be kept at bay. The minute we vacated those territories, the Islamists would take over, as did Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) meets with US Secretary of State John Kerry in Jerusalem on November 6, 2013. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

In a later reference to Kerry, in the context of the secretary’s leading role in the Iran talks, Netanyahu recalls receiving a message from him when he came to Shimon Peres’s funeral in 2016, an event attended by numerous other world leaders. “Tell Bibi,” Kerry said in a message conveyed via another Israeli present, “that if he wants a funeral like this one, he’d better change his policies.”

“‘Tell Kerry,’” I replied to the messenger, “‘that it’s not my funeral I’m concerned with but Israel’s.’”

8. He acknowledges ‘inconsiderate phrasing’ about Arab voters flocking to the polls

Netanyahu claims that he was not trying to undermine the right of Arab Israelis to vote in his controversial 2015 election day message warning that Arab voters were flocking to the polls “in droves.”

Netanyahu writes that “a thinly disguised political NGO called V15, with a staff that included former Obama advisers, fueled an anti-Likud campaign with millions of dollars from abroad, including $300,000 given by the US State Department,” and was working to mobilize voters against him. “On election day V15 went into full gear, concentrating on specific Arab and Jewish communities where there was practically no support for the Likud.” His comments, he says, were a response to that drive when he saw turnout figures.

“I took to the internet and the press to urge my supporters to come out and vote. At midday I received field reports of massive turnout for the Arab parties, which were always anti-Likud and anti-Zionist. In an eleventh-hour appeal to our voters, I sounded the alarm bell,” Netanyahu says.

In one of the criminal cases in which he is currently on trial, the ex-premier’s aides are alleged to have ordered editors at the Walla news site to prominently feature Netanyahu’s “alarm bell” message for hours at the top of the site throughout election day.

“The actual words I used were ‘Arab voters are flocking to the voting booths en masse.’ A much better formulation would have been ‘the voters of anti-Zionist [sic] Arab parties are flocking to the voting booths en masse and if you don’t come to vote we will lose the election,'” the former premier writes.

Benjamin Netanyahu in an Election Day message, March 17, 2015, warning that Arab voters were coming out in droves. (screen capture: YouTube)

“What I said was widely misrepresented as a slur against the right of Israeli Arabs to vote. It wasn’t. Israeli Arabs voted for the Likud as well, and I consistently appealed to them in this election and in all elections,” Netanyahu claims.

“But given my regret over the inconsiderate phrasing and my absolute conviction that every citizen, Arab and Jew, should have the right to vote, I called a meeting with pro-Zionist Arab leaders within forty-eight hours to apologize for any misunderstanding my words may have caused. Still, this incident has been used against me to this day.”

In a subsequent election, Netanyahu pushed for the installation of cameras inside polling stations in Arab towns, claiming rampant voter fraud was taking place in the minority community.

9. He details how ‘something went wrong’ with his plan to annex West Bank land under Trump’s plan

The testier periods of his relationships with Democratic administrations contrast starkly to his description of Donald Trump’s time in office.

Netanyahu hails Trump for decisions to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal, recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, move the US embassy to the city, recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights and broker the Abraham Accords — all policies that the former prime minister says he played a vital role in advancing.

While he avoids weighing in on the January 6 Capitol riots, Trump’s denial of his 2020 election loss and the former president’s anger at Netanyahu’s decision to congratulate Biden for winning that election, the former premier does try and set the record straight regarding a disagreement surrounding his announced plan to annex large parts of the West Bank in January 2020.

Related – Netanyahu: Trump said I don’t want peace, in a ‘Houston, we are the problem!’ moment

In his own book published earlier this year, Trump’s senior adviser Jared Kushner wrote that Netanyahu’s announcement at the unveiling ceremony of the White House peace plan had shocked the president, who was not prepared to okay a drastic gesture that would scuttle their proposal at the get-go. Kushner claimed Netanyahu had been convinced to make the announcement because then-US ambassador to Israel David Friedman had gone rogue and assured the Israeli prime minister that Washington would back the annexation of roughly 30 percent of the West Bank.

In “Bibi: My Story,” Netanyahu disputes this account, saying the only reason he agreed to come to Washington for the peace plan’s unveiling in the middle of an election campaign was that he had received a letter from Trump in which the president promised to immediately recognize Israeli control over those areas.

“Jared and David assured me that in exchange for Israel agreeing to negotiate on the basis of the Trump plan and setting aside the territory the US designated for a potential Palestinian state for at least four years, President Trump would immediately recognize Israeli control over 30 percent of the territory,” Netanyahu writes, adding that this laid out in a letter he received from the president the day of the unveiling ceremony.

Two sources familiar with the letter told The Times of Israel earlier this year that the US also included several conditions Israel had to meet in order to receive Trump’s backing for annexation. One of them required Israel “formally adopting detailed territorial plans” consistent with the peace plan’s conceptual map, whereby Jerusalem would agree not to expand settlements in areas of the West Bank delineated by the proposal as part of the future Palestinian state.

Netanyahu had not made any “formal adoption” of the peace plan when he declared during its January 28, 2020, unveiling ceremony at the White House that Israel would imminently be applying its sovereignty to all West Bank settlements along with the Jordan Valley.

Then-US president Donald Trump, right, looks over to then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, during an event in the East Room of the White House in Washington, January 28, 2020, at which Trump unveiled his ‘Peace to Prosperity’ vision for an Israeli-Palestinian accord. (AP/Susan Walsh)

Shortly after the Tuesday ceremony, Netanyahu told reporters that he would be bringing the annexation proposal to the cabinet for approval at its very next meeting five days later, which would have given him very little time to also pass the formal adoption of the peace plan. He didn’t mention the requirement of formally adopting the peace plan, which was highly unpopular with most settler leaders — a key component of Netanyahu’s political base — who refused to accept the proposal’s envisioning of the creation of a semi-contiguous, semi-sovereign Palestinian state alongside Israel.

In his book, Netanyahu writes that “something went terribly wrong” after he made the annexation announcement and that the White House “backtracked” within hours on its commitment to back his desired policy.

“What transpired to bring about this change is still unclear. Did David and Jared not explain to the president the commitment that he had just proclaimed publicly and signed in an exchange of letters with me?”

“Whatever the reason, it was inappropriate and cost me a great deal. I had made a commitment and stood by it. I had agreed to negotiate on the basis of the Trump plan that had been unveiled at the White House. That was not easy for me politically but I did it. I upheld my end of the bargain. Unfortunately, the Americans did not,” Netanyahu writes.

The Trump years ‘were the best ever for the Israeli-American alliance’

Summing up Trump, Netanyahu says his “unpredictability caused much discomfort among his frequently changing staff and among America’s allies, who were used to automatic, reflexive support from American presidents. But it had its uses internationally by putting America’s adversaries off balance and instilling fear in its enemies. As Israel’s prime minister, I saw it as my job to carefully navigate through the new reality Trump brought to Washington in order to advance Israel’s security and vital national interests and to forge four historic peace agreements. I could do so because Trump adopted an entirely new approach to peacemaking. He did not heed bureaucratic orthodoxy and was willing to go outside the box.”

Praising Trump’s “bold” stance on Iran, he sums up Trump as “a true trailblazer” and says their years together “were the best ever for the Israeli-American alliance… We proved conclusively that if you pursue peace through strength, you get both.”

10. He says Biden admitted the Democratic Party has shifted on Israel

Netanyahu writes several times about Joe Biden’s support and friendship for Israel, his good nature, and his role in mitigating some of the tensions between him and president Obama when Biden was vice president.

Relating to Biden in 2021, however, he writes that the US president did not mince words when he pressed the Israeli leader to swiftly agree to a ceasefire to end the May Gaza war.

“Bibi, I gotta tell you, I’m coming under a lot of pressure back here,” Netanyahu quotes Biden as having said. “‘This is not Scoop Jackson’s Democratic Party,’” referring to the strikingly pro-Israel senator whose long tenure ended in the 1980s.

“I’m getting squeezed here to put an end to this as soon as possible.”

Such a sentiment seems to contradict what Biden has said publicly regarding Israel politics in the Democratic party.

Asked in an interview with an Israeli news network earlier this year whether he was concerned that the party might be moving away from its traditional support for Israel, Biden insisted that only a few members were pushing that stance and that they were wrong.

“There’s no possibility of the Democratic Party, or even a significant portion of the Republican Party, walking away from Israel,” Biden said.

US President Joe Biden (L) meets opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, July 14, 2022 (GPO)

Netanyahu says he didn’t back down during the 2021 phone call with Biden, though he did recognize that he would not be able to drag the Gaza war out for weeks as had been the case in the 2014 war.

He did manage to secure a commitment from Biden that the US would replenish the Iron Dome missile defense system interceptors that had been used up in the 11-day war. However, this did take longer than initially expected due to pushback from several progressive lawmakers in Biden’s party.

11. He blames Bennett’s ‘Muslim Brotherhood government’ for terror rise

Netanyahu saves a few words to address Israel’s current, outgoing government — a diverse group of parties from across the political spectrum that were united largely by their belief that the Likud leader had to be removed from office.

He is particularly dismissive of his successor as prime minister, Naftali Bennett. “Though he postured as right-wing, I gradually understood that this was an empty pose. He craved fame and power, and his willingness [in 2013] to exclude an important segment of the right for an opportunistic alliance with Lapid underscored this.”

“Though hailed by leading columnists in the West as promoting unity in Israel, it did the very opposite,” Netanyahu claims of the coalition. “It excluded the majority of the Jewish electorate and made a pact with the Muslim Brotherhood party, whose charter and governing Islamist council is officially committed to the dissolution of the Jewish state.”

In fact, coalition member Mansour Abbas, the chairman of the Islamist Ra’am party, has expressed his acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state and told Arab Israelis that they should also do so, urging them to help him address their civilian needs while placing nationalistic concerns regarding the Palestinians on the back burner.

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid (L), Yamina leader Naftali Bennett (C) and Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas sign a coalition agreement on June 2, 2021. (Courtesy of Ra’am)

In his book, Netanyahu blames the outgoing government for the spike in deadly terror attacks earlier this year, claiming “Israeli citizens hid the Israeli flag out of fear of Palestinian rioters brandishing PLO flags” in “cities and campuses across the country.”

While he insists that the government caused significant damage to Israel’s economy and the fight against a nuclear Iran, Netanyahu acknowledges that its one-year stint did allow him time to write his latest memoir.

“For this I will be forever grateful.”

12. He wrote some of the book during Knesset budget debates

In his acknowledgments, Netanyahu says he wrote the book, in longhand, during the nine months after his departure from the Prime Minister’s Office last year.

Opposition leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu seen in a virus quarantine section of the Knesset plenum during a vote on the state budget, September 2, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Strikingly, given the widespread allegation that he was responsible for preventing the passage of a state budget before the collapse of his coalition in 2020-21, the former prime minister says he actually penned some of it in the Knesset plenum, during budget debates under the Bennett-led coalition.

“Some of the manuscript was written in the oddest of places,” he concludes, “including in the Knesset plenary during impossibly long budget debates.”

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