Ten months after he was impeached for secretly trying to coerce a foreign leader into opening a sham investigation of Joe Biden, President Donald Trump produced a public encore on Friday. Trump tried and failed to get Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to criticize Biden during an Oval Office conference call.
Trump’s failed attempt to get Netanyahu to do him a “favor though” came as the president announced that his administration had convinced Sudan to move toward normalizing relations with Israel. In return, Sudan got financial incentives and a promise that it would be removed from an American list of state sponsors of terrorism — a remarkable turnaround for the country that once harbored Osama bin Laden.
Trump’s call with Netanyahu, to announce the deal, was recorded by reporters. “Do you think Sleepy Joe could have made this deal, Bibi, Sleepy Joe?” Trump said, inviting Netanyahu to join him in insulting the former vice president he currently trails in the polls. “Do you think he would’ve made this deal? Somehow, I don’t think so,” Trump added.
But Netanyahu, well aware that he could soon be on the phone with a President Biden instead, failed to deliver the partisan hit requested of him.
As the Israeli prime minister began, “Well, Mr. President, one thing I can tell you, is, um…” Trump looked up at the reporters in the room with expectation and a self-satisfied grin. His expression changed, however, when Netanyahu concluded, “we appreciate the help for peace from anyone in America, and we appreciate what you’ve done enormously.”
Trump: “Do you think Sleepy Joe could have made this deal, Bibi, Sleepy Joe?”
Israeli PM Netanyahu: "Uh … well … Mr. President, one thing I can tell you is we appreciate the help for peace from anyone in America." pic.twitter.com/LU02tEOXtK
— The Recount (@therecount) October 23, 2020
“Yep,” a suddenly glum Trump responded.
“This will be registered in the book, in history books,” Netanyahu, who shares a campaign pollster with Trump, added in an apparent effort to boost Trump’s ego. “History registers who did what, I think it does,” he said.
Trump’s own aides appeared to be aware of how embarrassing it was for him that Netanyahu refused to take up his invitation to attack Biden, because they edited out his question when they posted video of the Israeli prime minister’s answer on the president’s official YouTube channel.
Earlier in the conference call, which also included Sudan’s civilian and military leaders, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, Trump had described the deal between those nations as an agreement “to make peace,” before noting that he was not really sure that they had ever fought a war. “They’ve essentially been at war with Israel for a long time,” the president said. “I don’t know if it was fighting, I don’t know that — but probably there’s been a little bit.”
Sudan has blamed Israel for a series of air strikes carried out in its territory, against suspected arms convoys and at least one weapons factory.
In 1967, following Israel’s capture of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza and the Golan Heights that summer, Sudan, a majority Arab country, hosted an Arab League conference at which eight Arab nations approved a declaration of what were known as “The Three No’s,” pledging that there would be no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, and no negotiations.
With Trump’s help, Israel has sought to strike deals with Arab nations to normalize relations without agreeing to end its occupation of the territory it seized in 1967, or granting full rights to the Palestinians who live there.
Palestinian and Israeli commentators observed on Friday that agreements like the one with Sudan — which remove pressure from Israel to grant independence or political rights to the captive Palestinian population it rules — were in some sense the opposite of a peace deal.
“To be clear,” Noura Erakat, a Palestinian-American legal scholar, observed on Twitter, “Sudan’s military is normalizing relations [with] Israel” despite the opposition of its civilian government. “This is the violence and anti-democratic future promised by the U.S. and Israel.”
“Hearing people celebrate ‘peace in the Middle East’ just helps clarify how dangerous this moment is,” the Israeli journalist Haggai Matar wrote on Twitter. “Trump and Netanyahu are peddling the myth of an end to the Israeli-Arab conflict, when in fact they’re cementing Israeli apartheid and the oppression of millions of Palestinians.” He added, “These peace deals — with UAE, Bahrain and now Sudan (more likely to follow) — are intentionally taking away some of the Palestinians’ last bargaining chips, and the last reasons for Israelis to support an end to occupation. These are sad times for those who support a just peace.”
As the Israeli diplomatic correspondent Barak Ravid noted, the agreement could clear the way for Israel to deport close to 20,000 Sudanese asylum seekers from Israel. “Until today Israel wasn’t able to return them to Sudan legally because of the state of belligerence between the countries and the fear they would be sent to jail or be executed,” Ravid explained.
Ravid also reported that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas described the agreement as “another stab in the back.”
“The path to a comprehensive and just peace must lead to an end to the Israeli occupation of the land of the State of Palestine, and the achievement of independence for the Palestinian people in their state with East Jerusalem as its capital on the 1967 borders,” a statement from the Palestinian president’s office said.