SEPTEMBER 19, 2019
Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Wednesday that Israeli officials “played” President Donald Trump in their conversations with him, warning that a “healthy amount of skepticism” is needed in dealings with Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
The comments came during a panel discussion at Harvard University in which Tillerson, who was fired by the president last year, touched on a variety of themes from his tenure, including Iran, his hiring freeze at the State Department and the unpredictable nature of Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, Netanyahu.
“They did that with the president on a couple of occasions, to persuade him that ‘We’re the good guys, they’re the bad guys,’” Tillerson said, according to the Harvard Gazette. “We later exposed it to the president so he understood, ‘You’ve been played.’”
He cautioned that skepticism is necessary when dealing with Netanyahu, whom Tillerson called “a bit Machiavellian.”
The Israeli Prime Minister’s office responded to the former secretary of state via Twitter, writing, “Secretary Tillerson, Israel *is* the good guy.”
Netanyahu, a close ally of Trump, faces an uncertain future. Israel held its second parliamentary election in six months this week, and it appears that Netanyahu’s right-wing, Likud party will be unable to win a governing majority in the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament. Instead, it appears Likud and the centrist Blue and White Party will have an even number of seats in the Knesset, leaving Netanyahu’s future as prime minister uncertain.
Benny Gantz, who leads the Blue and White Party, said he’s open to a coalition government but not a power-sharing agreement with Netanyahu.
Tillerson said Wednesday that he supported during his tenure a two-state solution to the long-running conflict between Israel and Palestine, a plan that would put him at odds with Netanyahu’s stance.
“I did believe that we were at a moment in time where perhaps we could chart a way where the Arab world could support an outcome that the Palestinians might not think was perfect — and in the past, if it wasn’t perfect, it didn’t happen — but with enough encouragement, pressure from the Arab world, that we could get it close enough that the Palestinians would finally agree,” he said at the Harvard panel. “And in my view, it was a two-state solution.”