It’s axiomatic that diplomats must be, well, diplomatic. That might explain why Michael Oren, a current member of the Knesset (Kulanu) but who served as ambassador of Israel to the United States from 2009 until 2013, kept his disillusionment with President Barack Obama under wraps until now.
In a Wall St. Journal op-ed to promote a new book he’s written, Mr. Oren has accused Mr. Obama of, if not quite in the WSJ headline-writer’s contention, “abandon[ing] Israel,” at least (in Mr. Oren’s actual words) “abandoning the two core principles of Israel’s alliance with America.”
A serious charge, though, in its own right.
Mr. Oren acknowledges that “contrary to many of his detractors, Mr. Obama was never anti-Israel” and “significantly strengthened security cooperation with the Jewish State.” The president, moreover, “rushed to help Israel in 2011 when the Carmel forest was devastated by fire.”
Presumably the ex-ambassador appreciates, too, Mr. Obama’s swift and strong warning to Egyptian authorities in 2011 that they had better protect mob-besieged Israeli embassy guards in Cairo. And the president’s informing the Arab world in his 2009 Cairo speech that the U.S.-Israel bond is “unbreakable.” As well as things like the administration’s condemnation of the Palestinian Authority’s “factually incorrect” denial of the Kosel Maaravi’s connection to the Jewish people. And its vetoing of every anti-Israel U.N. Security Council proposal raised during its tenure.
But never mind all that (and more). Mr. Obama stands accused by Mr. Oren of two sins: openly disagreeing with Israel, which Mr. Oren contends had “never” happened before; and neglecting to provide Israel with advance copies of statements concerning U.S. policy in the Mideast.
Sin #1, according to Mr. Oren, consisted of Mr. Obama’s telling American Jewish leaders in 2009 that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s lack of movement toward a peace process “erodes our credibility with the Arabs.” And the president’s “void[ing of] George W. Bush’s commitment to include the major settlement blocs and Jewish Jerusalem within Israel’s borders in any peace agreement.” And Mr. Obama’s call for a temporary “freeze of Israeli construction” in contested areas.
Sin #2? President Obama didn’t share a copy of his Cairo speech with Israel ahead of time, even though it contained “unprecedented support for the Palestinians” and “recognition of Iran’s right to nuclear power.”
Strong evidence for a guilty verdict, it might seem. Some pesky facts, though, get in the way.
American disagreement with Israel was unprecedented? Presidents Reagan, Bush I and Clinton (let alone Carter) all publicly took issue with various Israeli policies and actions. Pesky fact.
Support for a “two-state solution,” as it happens, has been American policy for decades (not to mention the current desire of a majority of Israelis – and the hope, at least so stated, of Mr. Netanyahu). Thus, whatever one may think about the idea’s wisdom, not advancing it certainly erodes Palestinian hopes, and the credibility of the U.S. as an effective advocate for a peace agreement. Pesky fact.
As to the terms of a final peace agreement – if ever there is one – Mr. Obama has never – never – said or implied that major settlement blocs or Jewish Jerusalem will not end up as part of Israel. When he famously spoke about an agreement “based” on the 1967 lines, he also added, in the very same sentence, that it would include land swaps to ensure Israel’s security – code for land Israel considers essential. Pesky fact.
As to a construction freeze, Mr. Netanyahu actually ordered one, for 10 months, in 2009. The Palestinian Authority irresponsibly wasted the opportunity to negotiate then. Would another freeze yield a different result? No one can know. But urging Mr. Netanyahu to try again isn’t an abandonment of anything.
Mr. Obama’s Cairo speech, while it indeed included outreach to the Arab world (a wise, if doomed effort), contained not only a clear call on that world to accept Israel but a condemnation of “baseless, ignorant, and hateful” Arab Holocaust denial, and of Arab nations’ “threatening Israel with destruction – or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews.”
No, he didn’t announce an invasion of Iran in that speech. He referenced that country’s past evils and asserted that the U.S. is “prepared to move forward” to help prevent “a nuclear arms race in the Middle East that could lead this region and the world down a hugely dangerous path.” Mr. Oren, and others, might consider that approach misguided. But the leader of the free world is entitled to his own opinion about what will best protect Israel and the rest of the world. And he may even be right.
Mr. Oren didn’t respond to messages from the New York Times last Thursday. He had a book party that night.
© 2015 Hamodia