Michael Oren and Barack Obama.
(photo credit: REUTERS,JPOST STAFF)
In polite diplomatic circles, former ambassador to the US Michael Oren is the Israeli envoy to love, current ambassador Ron Dermer the one to hate.
Oren is the diplomat open to everyone, Dermer nothing more than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “ambassador to the Republican Party.” Oren is the disciplined golden retriever, Dermer a rottweiler.
Now no longer a diplomat, but a Kulanu MK, Oren has taken the gloves off. That much is evident in excerpts that have emerged from Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide
– his upcoming book about his tenure as ambassador to Washington from 2009-2013 – and as he speaks and writes more about those tumultuous years as part of promoting the book.
In an op-ed piece Tuesday in The Wall Street Journal, entitled “How Obama Abandoned Israel,” Oren wrote that US President Barack Obama had intentionally abandoned two key principles of the American- Israeli alliance: 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 – who is by no means in the hard-right political camp, and who says Obama “was never anti-Israel” and has “significantly strengthened” US-Israel security cooperation – said Israel had made its share of blunders during his tenure, such as the way it announced construction in Jewish neighborhoods beyond the Green Line during US Vice President Joe Biden’s 2010 visit.
“Yet many of Israel’s bungles were not committed by Mr.
Netanyahu personally,” and even then, he wrote, the prime minister apologized.
Obama, in contrast, had promoted an agenda of championing the Palestinian cause and achieving a nuclear accord with Iran from his first moment in office, Oren said.
“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 said Obama had 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 said Obama had 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,” Oren continued. “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,” the former ambassador said that Obama had 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.”
Obama also abandoned the “no surprises” 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, Oren wrote. Likewise, he said, 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” the president.
There was apparently a background to 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 former ambassador further asserted that “the abandonment of the ‘no daylight’ and ‘no surprises’ principles climaxed over the Iranian nuclear program.”
“Throughout my years in Washington, I participated in intimate and frank discussions with US officials on the Iranian program,” he said. “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."