Former Israeli ambassador to US Michael Oren..
(photo credit: Hyungwon Kang / Reuters)
US President Barack’s Obama’s carefully crafted Israel itinerary is aimed at
combating those who deny the Holocaust and/or Jewish peoplehood, ambassador to
the US Michael Oren said on Sunday.
Oren, who arrived on Sunday to be
part of the two-day Obama visit that begins on Wednesday afternoon, told The
Jerusalem Post that the Obama team came to the Israelis with the idea of what
messages they wanted the visit to convey, and then asked for suggestions about
how best to get those messages across.
Obama’s scheduled visit on
Thursday to the Dead Sea Scrolls at the Israel Museum combats the legions of
people – including those in the leadership of the Palestinian Authority – who
deny the Jews are a people, Oren said.
Many Arab leaders, while
acknowledging Judaism as a religion, do not view the Jews as a distinct people
or nation deserving of a state.
Oren said the US president’s visit to the
Dead Sea Scrolls, the earliest surviving copies of biblical texts and evidence
of the Jews’ ancient connection to the land, is meant to combat that idea. “This
shows that there is a Jewish people that is native to the region and whose roots
here go back thousands of years,” he said.
Obama is widely expected to
stress the Jewish people’s connection to Israel, in part to make up for his
Cairo University speech in May 2009 where he failed to mention any Jewish
historical attachment to the land, framing the Jews’ return to Israel solely
within the context of the Holocaust and tragic Jewish history.
deciding to lay a wreath at the grave of Theodor Herzl, who founded Zionism 50 years before the Holocaust, Obama was sending a powerful message to those in the
region whose narrative is that there would have been no Israel without the
Holocaust, Oren said.
Obama’s visit to Yad Vashem on Friday morning, Oren
added, is a strong signal to the Holocaust deniers in the region.
addition, Oren said the visit – even if some tactical differences may emerge, as
they often do among the closest allies – will send a message to the region of “a
strength and depth of the US-Israel relationship” that cannot be
Oren downplayed the tactical differences between Washington and
Jerusalem, saying that “our positions on the major issues, including the
Palestinians,” were closer than they have been in the past.
ambassador said that while last week’s selection of a new pope knocked the Obama
visit off the news cycle in the US for a few days, “it has come back over the
weekend with a vengeance. Thursday, Friday and Saturday it was on the news
Oren said that that during this period he was continuously
asked two main questions about the Obama trip: whether there would be a
breakthrough in the peace process, and about Iran.
diplomatic process with the Palestinians, he said that judging from the
questions he was asked, “you wouldn’t know there was any other issue other than
the peace process and the settlements.”
Oren said his response was that
“if the Palestinians want to come back to the negotiations, we are going to be
there; not tomorrow, but today.”
And as far as Iran was concerned, Oren
said that Obama’s comments to Channel 2 on Thursday that Iran was a year away
from a bomb elicited much speculation about whether this signaled a disagreement
with Netanyahu, who at the UN last September said the Iranians could cross the
red line toward acquiring a nuclear bomb by “the spring.”
appreciate the US’s determination in stopping Iran from getting nuclear
weapons,” Oren said. “We too share that goal. Our analysts and American analysts
are seeing the same facts and deriving many of the same conclusions.”
stressed that when Netanyahu drew his red line at the United Nations, the
question was not when Iran would be able to get the bomb, but rather when the
West could no longer prevent it from getting the bomb. “And as Obama
acknowledged,” Oren said, “Israel has the right to defend itself against any