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'I like this guy,' Trump told Kushner after hosting Gantz

Kushner: Trump weighed endorsing Gantz after ‘fuming’ at Netanyahu’s annexation plan

Trump appreciated Blue and White leader’s willingness to make peace with Palestinians, contrary to Netanyahu’s stance, former top White House adviser reveals in forthcoming memoir

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

US President Donald Trump (right) meets with Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz in the White House in Washington on January 27, 2020. (Elad Malka)
US President Donald Trump (right) meets with Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz in the White House in Washington on January 27, 2020. (Elad Malka)

Former US president Donald Trump considered endorsing Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz ahead of the 2020 Knesset elections amid Trump’s growing frustration with Gantz’s rival, then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, ex-White House senior adviser Jared Kushner reveals in his new book.

The revelation represents the latest blow to the once widely resonant image Netanyahu worked to build of himself during Trump’s tenure, as someone who was able to capitalize on a close relationship with the US president in order to advance his political program. For example, Netanyahu’s party hung campaign billboards  above major  highways before elections in 2019 showing the prime minister shaking hands with the US president under the caption, “Netanyahu. Another league.”

That narrative began to unravel once Trump lost his bid for reelection in November 2020. In an interview he gave to Axios shortly thereafter, the former president raged at Netanyahu for congratulating Joe Biden. “He was very early [to congratulate him]. Like earlier than most. I haven’t spoken to him since. Fuck him,” Trump said in an interview last December.

But Kushner’s forthcoming book reveals that the animosity toward Netanyahu began much earlier.

The former top White House aide writes that he and Trump were livid with Netanyahu after the prime minister used his speech at the January 2020 White House unveiling ceremony for the US Mideast peace plan to make an announcement about his plan to immediately annex large parts of the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley and all the settlements.

Kushner says former US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman had gone rogue and told Netanyahu that he would receive Trump’s backing for the move. But this wasn’t the case, and Kushner would go on to order Friedman after the ceremony to notify Netanyahu that the US was slamming the brakes on his plan.

A worker hangs an election campaign billboard of the Likud party shows Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and US President Donald Trump in Tel Aviv, Israel on September 8, 2019. Hebrew on billboard reads ‘Netanyahu, in another league.’ (AP/Oded Balilty)

Several days later, Israel’s ambassador to the US Ron Dermer showed up at Kushner’s office and demanded that the Trump administration back Netanyahu’s annexation plan.

Kushner did not take well to the request and the meeting quickly got heated.

“Breaking History: A White House Memoir,” by Jared Kushner

“I couldn’t believe it. Trump was still fuming over Bibi’s speech. In fact, he had asked me whether he should take the unusual step of endorsing the prime minister’s political rival, Benny Gantz,” Kushner writes in “Breaking History: A White House Memoir,” set to be published on August 23.

“Had I walked twenty feet down the hall to the Oval and asked Trump to go forward with annexation, the president would have thrown me out,” he writes.

Going on the offensive, Kushner writes, he told Dermer, “’Don’t take us for granted… We worked our asses off for three years to get to this point. For the first time, Israel has the moral high ground…. But now it’s all screwed up.

Continues Kushner: “You guys think you have been so effective with this administration. I hate to break the reality to you, but we didn’t do any of these things because you convinced us to. We did them because we believe they were the right things to do.’”

Gantz appears in several other passages in the book and in just about all of them, Kushner or Trump are described as thinking very highly of the Blue and White chairman, whom the president fondly called “the general.”

Gantz met Trump briefly in the Oval Office ahead of the peace plan unveiling and, according to Kushner, told Trump, “Just so you know: if I become prime minister, I am going to reach out to the Palestinians and make a deal.”

“Later on, Trump told me what he thought of Gantz: ‘I like this guy,'” Kushner writes.

This contrasted with Netanyahu, who showed much less enthusiasm toward the peace plan. Trump, in his 2021 Axios interview, charged that “Bibi did not want to make peace,” he said. “Never did.”

Kushner goes further later in the passage, saying, “I respected that every time Gantz had to make a decision between what was better for the State of Israel or for himself politically, he always chose his country.”

The cold feelings toward Netanyahu had also come up earlier during Trump’s tenure when the president decided to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

US President Donald Trump (center) meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (second from left) alongside Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer (left), US Vice President Mike Pence, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (2nd right) and White House adviser Jared Kushner (right) in the Oval Office of the White House on January 27, 2020 (SAUL LOEB / AFP)

In a phone call before the official announcement, Trump informed Netanyahu of the move, but the former premier simply responded: “If you choose to do that, I will support you.”

Kushner writes that a confused Trump, who had expected an exuberant reaction, repeated himself, to which Netanyahu again “responded with less-than-expected enthusiasm.”

“Trump began to second-guess his decision… [he] wondered aloud why he was taking this risk if the Israeli prime minister didn’t think it was that important,” Kushner wrote, and claimed Trump then told the former premier: “Bibi, I think you are the problem.”

Netanyahu “coolly countered” by explaining he was part of the solution. However, Kushner writes, Trump was visibly “frustrated.”

Despite the bad blood, Trump has not ruled out endorsing Netanyahu ahead of the upcoming Israeli election in November 2022.

Asked in a June interview with Newsmax whether he’d throw his support behind Netanyahu, who is opposed by incumbent Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Blue and White chief Gantz, Trump responded, “Nobody did more for Bibi. And I liked Bibi. I still like Bibi. But I also like loyalty.”

Still, he remained noncommittal regarding an endorsement. “We’ll see what happens… He disappointed me in certain ways, but he also did a very good job in other ways.”

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