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

In memoir, former PM says he used golf talk and visual aids to get ex-president on Israel’s side; Ron Dermer called peace with Palestinians a ‘hole-in-one through a brick wall’

Then-US president Donald Trump (right) with then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu prior to Trump's departure to Rome at the Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, on May 23, 2017. (Kobi Gideon/GPO via Flash90)
Then-US president Donald Trump (right) with then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu prior to Trump's departure to Rome at the Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, on May 23, 2017. (Kobi Gideon/GPO via Flash90)

Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu reveals in an upcoming book that golfing metaphors and simple visual aids were used to convince then-US president Donald Trump to pursue regional peace between Israel and Arab states, and to counter his positive first impression of the Palestinian Authority leadership under President Mahmoud Abbas.

An advanced copy of Netanyahu’s memoir, “Bibi: My Story,” set to be released on October 18, was obtained by The Guardian.

The book reveals details of the former prime minister’s relationship with the former president while they were concurrently in office, from 2017 to 2021.

According to the Guardian, Netanyahu boasts of policy successes during Trump’s term, such as the US move of its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, and Washington’s withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

He avoids discussing US politics, Trump’s denial of his election loss and the January 6 Capitol riots.

At one point in 2017, when Trump met then-President Reuven Rivlin, the US leader “blurted out, ‘Bibi doesn’t want peace,'” Netanyahu recalled in the book.

He said Israel’s then-ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer was “flabbergasted.” by Trump’s assessment. “This was not ‘Houston, we have a problem.’ This was ‘Houston, we are the problem!'”

Netanyahu was determined to put the Palestinian issue on the back burner during his premiership while pursuing peace with neighboring Arab states, and wrote in the book that he was frustrated with Trump’s “fixation with the Palestinians.”

In September 2020, Israel signed the US-brokered Abraham Accords with Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, normalizing relations with the two states. Morocco separately forged ties with Israel, while Sudan signed onto the accords later on but has yet to normalize relations with the Jewish state.

In order to convince Trump that peace with the Palestinians was not feasible, Netanyahu said he deployed slides for Trump, with maps demonstrating the distance from Tel Aviv to the 1967 lines “which the Palestinians demanded we retreat,” referring to lines marking Israel’s territory before the Six-Day War.

The cover of Benjamin Netanyahu’s new book. (Courtesy)

Trump is widely reported to have preferred to receive information in byte-size, easy-to-digest format, and Netanyahu seems to have embraced such an approach.

“Superimposed on the map was the distance from Trump Tower to the George Washington Bridge. The two distances — a little more than six miles as the crow flies — were identical,” Netanyahu wrote.

Netanyahu said that Dermer described to Trump prospects of achieving peace with the Palestinians as a “hole-in-one through a brick wall,” while “peace with the Emirates is a five-foot putt” and “peace with the Saudis is a 30-foot putt.”

“The president got it. For the time being at least, we had certainly moved him to a better place.”

Netanyahu recollected how as premier, he and then-US ambassador to Israel David Friedman showed video clips of Abbas to Trump portraying him as duplicitous, promoting peace in English while praising terrorists in Arabic.

“I could see that the video registered with Trump, at least momentarily. ‘Wow,’ he said. ‘Is that the same guy I just met in Washington? He seemed like such a sweet, peaceful guy,’” Netanyahu wrote.

US President Donald Trump signs a document reinstating sanctions against Iran after announcing the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, in the Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House in Washington, DC, on May 8, 2018. (AFP/Saul Loeb)

This episode was first recounted in US journalist Bob Woodward’s book on the Trump Administration, “Rage.” According to Woodward’s book, then-US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson believed a video of Abbas that ostensibly showed him calling for the murder of children was likely a fake, but Trump remained convinced by the footage and later called Abbas a “liar” and a “murderer” at their next meeting.

Netanyahu also tells of his efforts to convince Trump to withdraw from the Iran deal. He describes a Mossad raid on a warehouse in Tehran in which an “enormous amount of material” was recovered.

When Netanyahu played a short video for Trump in the White House on March 5, 2018, showing what the Israeli operatives had found, “the president pointed to the other senior officials in the Oval Office and said, ‘Maybe they needed to see this. I didn’t. I’ve already decided to leave the deal.’”

Netanyahu presented the findings to the public in April 2018, and a week later, Trump withdrew from the agreement.

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