Kushner offered to pay to get the Abraham Accords ceremony on White House lawn, a new book reports
Jared Kushner, the former White House senior advisor and architect of the Abraham Accords, committed to personally cover any potential costs of the White House signing ceremony for the deal after facing resistance from first lady Melania Trump, according to a new tell-all book about the Trump administration.
The ceremony was slated for the South Lawn, but the first lady’s office controls the use of the White House grounds and Melania Trump “was worried about the grass,” journalists Peter Baker and Susan Glasser, a Washington, D.C. power couple, write in their forthcoming memoir, titled “The Divider.” The Forward obtained an advance copy of the book, which is set to be published on Tuesday.
The lawn had just been resodded in August, after Trump supporters tromped on it as they watched the president deliver his nomination address to the 2020 Republican National Convention.
“Kushner and his team were dumbfounded,” Baker, chief White House correspondent for The New York Times, and Glasser, a staff writer for The New Yorker, write in a book that includes accounts of several exclusive behind-the-scenes episodes during the Trump administration. “After all the delicate bargaining to bring Israelis and Arabs together, resolving part of the world’s greatest geopolitical turf battle, the final obstacle to their day of celebration would be the actual turf?” they write of the historic normalization deal between Israel and several Arab countries.
After considering other alternatives that were ruled out due to COVID-19 restrictions and security concerns, Kushner appealed to his father-in-law, the president, who agreed the South Lawn was the best option. But the first lady’s office “refused to bend” because they said it would cost too much to resod again if the crowd — estimated at about 700 guests — tore it up.
“How much?” Kushner reportedly asked about the cost of resodding. About $80,000, the office responded. “No problem,” Kushner said. “It’s on me.”
Kushner, whose net worth was estimated at about $800 million in 2019, said he would “personally write a check to cover any expense if the grass was damaged,” Baker and Glasser write. The event eventually took place on Sept. 15, 2020, on the South Lawn. “When the trumpets stopped playing and the documents were all signed, the grass turned out to be just fine. Kushner could keep his check,” they write.
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem
The book details how normalization deals were made possible thanks to personal relationships Kushner forged with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and then-crown prince and de facto leader of the United Arab Emirates Mohammad bin Zayed. The two met with Kushner in 2016 at the suggestion of Tom Barrack, a Lebanese American investor who is now under indictment for illegal foreign lobbying.
Even some Republicans were disturbed by the degree to which non-government officials could influence foreign policy in the Trump White House, according to Baker and Glasser. They write that former Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, who was chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was “dazzled” when he was called to Trump Tower in New York to interview for secretary of state and found Trump conferring with GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson.
Adelson, who was the largest single donor for Trump in the presidential election, demanded that Trump announce the relocation of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on the first day of his presidency, Corker recalled in an interview with the authors. “Trump was eager to oblige,” said the former Republican senator, who later learned that Trump “had to be talked out of literally announcing the embassy move in the first hours of the presidency.”
A year later, weeks after his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Trump offered Jordanian King Abdullah II control of the West Bank, the book reveals. “Abdullah, we have got a great deal for you,” Trump reportedly told the king in a quick phone call while he was meeting with then-Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January 2018. “We are going to give you the West Bank.” Trump then hung up the phone, the authors write.
The Palestinian Authority had cut off ties with the Trump administration after the embassy relocation was announced in December 2017. A phone call between Trump and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas abruptly ended after a long rant on the day before Trump made the decision public.
“I thought I was having a heart attack,” Abdullah told an American friend in 2018. “I couldn’t breathe. I was bent doubled-over.” Taking possession of the occupied Palestinian territories would have led to the collapse of the Hashemite monarchy.
The authors report that Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared “unimpressed” with Trump’s popularity in Israel after the former president bragged during a 2019 meeting about the Israeli government’s intention to build a new settlement in the Golan Heights and call it “Trump Heights” in honor of his decision to recognize Israel’s control over the Golan.
“Maybe they should just name Israel after you, Donald,” Putin told Trump in the conversation that took place during the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan, their first one-on-one meeting since the release of the Mueller report on the Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Putin was also popular in Israel at the time, maintaining close ties with then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“For all of Trump’s schoolboy crush on Putin, aides could not help noticing that it did not appear reciprocated,” Baker and Glasser write. “He gave the impression to American aides watching their interaction that he couldn’t care less about winning Trump over.”