[Readings] Friend Zone of Conflict | Harper's Magazine
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December 2020 Issue [Readings]

Friend Zone of Conflict


From a 2017 conversation between Yoram Ne’eman, then chief superintendent of the Israeli police, and Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel. The police were investigating whether Netanyahu had been given control of the news outlet Walla in exchange for making decisions that were favorable to the telecommunications firm Bezeq, whose controlling shareholder, Shaul Elovitch, owns Walla. The evidentiary phase of Netanyahu’s trial will begin next month. A transcript of the conversation was published in September by Haaretz.

benjamin netanyahu: Our relations grew stronger, to the best of my recollection, during the shiva for my father-in-law, in 2011. Shaul Elovitch and his wife were very warm. It looked genuine. And then, a year later, they came to a dinner and from there the ties were forged. He was already the owner of Walla, and I wanted to talk to him. It’s not a friendship in the sense that we’ll say, We’re going over to his place.

yoram ne’eman: Here you call him a personal friend and a buddy for twenty years.

netanyahu: I am defining for you the relations precisely. He was not a friend and a buddy. I know him. “Buddy”? I don’t know what that is.

yoram ne’eman: You’re the one who gave that description, a friend and a buddy for twenty years.

netanyahu: It’s a third-circle friendship. I call it friendliness.

yoram ne’eman: It’s an affidavit you signed.

netanyahu: First, I confirm that it’s my signature. Second, my intention in that description was exactly what I am telling you: loose acquaintanceship.

That reminds me, you’ll pardon me, of when I’m asked if I’m in favor of two states, Israel and Palestine. I told my friend Vice President Joe Biden, “Look, I don’t know what you mean, but I am telling you that in any settlement, what you call two states, Israel will be in absolute security control west of the Jordan.”

yoram ne’eman: Yes.

netanyahu: And he says, “That’s not a state.” I replied, “You call it a non-state, I call it a state.” There is a real question here, not of definition but of essence. What the essence was. The essence is exactly what I am describing to you.