By HERB KEINON, JPOST—
In polite diplomatic circles, former ambassador to the US Michael Oren is the Israeli envoy to Washington to love; current envoy Ron Dermer the one to hate.
Oren the diplomatic diplomat open to everyone; Dermer nothing more than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “ambassador to the Republican Party.” Oren the disciplined golden retriever, Dermer a rottweiler.
Now no longer a diplomat, but rather a Kulanu MK, Oren has taken the gloves off, evident in excerpts that have emerged from his upcoming book about his tenure as Israel’s ambassador to Washington from 2009-2013, and as he speaks and writes more about those tumultuous years in the Israeli-US relationship as part of promoting his book, Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide.
In an op-ed piece Tuesday in the Wall Street Journal entitled “How Obama Abandoned Israel,” Oren wrote that US President Barack Obama intentionally abandoned two core principles of Israel’s alliance with America: that there be no public daylight between the two states, and that there be no surprises.
While both Netanyahu and Obama have made mistakes in the relationship, only one – Obama – “made them deliberately,” Oren wrote.
Oren, by no means in Israel’s hard-right political camp and someone who says Obama “was never anti-Israel” and has “significantly strengthened” US-Israel security cooperation, said Israel made its share of blunders during his tenure, including the way it announced construction in Jewish neighborhoods and beyond the Green Line, including during US Vice President Joe Biden’s visit in 2010.
“Yet many of Israel’s bungles were not committed by Mr. Netanyahu personally,” and even then – he wrote– the prime minister apologized.
Obama, on the other had, promoted an agenda of championing the Palestinian cause and achieving a nuclear accord with Iran from his first moment in office. “Such policies would have put him at odds with any Israeli leader. But Mr. Obama posed an even more fundamental challenge by abandoning the two core principles of Israel’s alliance with America,” he wrote.
Regarding the “no daylight” principle, Oren wrote that Obama told American Jewish leaders in 2009 that this policy enabled Israel to sit “on the sidelines,” and eroded US credibility with the Arabs.
“The explanation ignored Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from Gaza and its two previous offers of Palestinian statehood in Gaza, almost the entire West Bank and half of Jerusalem—both offers rejected by the Palestinians,” Oren wrote.
He also wrote that Obama voided his predecessor George W. Bush’s commitment that the major settlement blocs would be part of Israel.
“Instead, he insisted on a total freeze of Israeli construction in those areas—’not a single brick,’ I later heard he ordered Mr. Netanyahu—while making no substantive demands of the Palestinians.
“Consequently, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas boycotted negotiations, reconciled with Hamas and sought statehood in the UN—all in violation of his commitments to the US—but he never paid a price. By contrast, the White House routinely condemned Mr. Netanyahu for building in areas that even Palestinian negotiators had agreed would remain part of Israel.”
Regarding the principle of “no surprises,” Oren said that Obama discarded that during his first meeting with Netanyahu in 2009 when he demanded a complete settlement freeze and Israel’s acceptance of the two state solution. One senior Israeli official characterized that meeting to The Jerusalem Post at the time as an “ambush.”
And as far as no surprises, Oren wrote that Obama abandoned that principle when he delivered a major address on the Middle East in Cairo in 2009 without any prior consultation with Israel – as was typically done in the past. Likewise in May 2011 Obama “altered 40 years of US policy by endorsing the 1967 lines with land swaps—formerly the Palestinian position—as the basis for peace-making.”
As Oren pointed out in the op-ed, it was that dramatic change of policy, made without giving Israeli leaders a prior heads-up, that led to a tense Obama-Netanyahu meeting in the White House the next day when Netanyahu was accused of “lecturing” to the president.
There was a background to that meeting, that “lecture,” and Oren provided it: “If Mr. Netanyahu appeared to lecture the president the following day, it was because he had been assured by the White House, through me, that no such change would happen.”
“The abandonment of the ‘no daylight’ and ‘no surprises’ principles climaxed over the Iranian nuclear program,” Oren wrote.
“Throughout my years in Washington, I participated in intimate and frank discussions with US officials on the Iranian program. But parallel to the talks came administration statements and leaks—for example, each time Israeli warplanes reportedly struck Hezbollah-bound arms convoys in Syria—intended to deter Israel from striking Iran preemptively.”