Michael Oren and Barack Obama.
(photo credit: REUTERS,JPOST STAFF)
Ambassador Michael Oren’s latest book is getting a lot of media play of late. Israel’s former ambassador to the United States maintains that US President Barack Obama shares more of the blame than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the breakdown in relations between the two leaders, but his arguments ignore and distort critically important facts.
Among the facts he ignores is the unprecedented defense and security support that the US, under President Obama’s leadership, has supplied Israel, ranging from the critically important Iron Dome missile defense system to an extensive range of weapons, far exceeding those provided by prior administrations.
Oren suggests that the prime minister “appeared to lecture” President Obama for suggesting the 1967 lines along with land swaps as the framework of a negotiated solution to the enduring Israel-Palestinian conflict.
“Appeared,” indeed. To an American audience, including many of us who have proudly and consistently stood with Israel through thick and thin, seeing Israel’s prime minister in fact lecture the president of the United States – when the president’s position was consistent with that of previous Democratic and Republican administrations – was a shocking spectacle. It not only showed astonishing disrespect for our president but it also undermined a basic tenet of pro-Israel advocacy for decades – that the interests of our two countries are aligned.
Oren says that only one leader acted deliberately. Perhaps Prime Minister Netanyahu acted emotionally, but his lecture had all the appearance of a quite deliberate, highly political act. In fact, Netanyahu misstated the president’s position, neglecting to mention that President Obama emphasized that the negotiations would necessarily lead to a change in the 1967 lines, as the inclusion of land swaps underscored. Oren also failed to mention that President George W. Bush spoke of “mutually agreed changes” to the 1949 armistice lines.
It is well and good that Oren opposed Netanyahu’s unprecedented and highly political speech to the US Congress at the invitation of Republican House Speaker John Boehner. But his opposition does not lessen that speech’s highly deliberate and partisan nature.
And while Oren acknowledges that Israel’s settlement policies, including the timing of some of the more provocative announcements, contravened consistent bipartisan US policies, he downplays their significance and infers that, because mid-level officials made some of those announcements, they were not deliberate policies of the prime minister. This hardly passes the smell test.
As for the so-called “Bush commitment” which Oren references, president Bush himself said in that same letter that any final settlement would only be made by agreement between the parties. While President Bush appeared to be prepared to support certain settlement blocs, the “commitment” was conditioned on Palestinian acceptance.
Oren also did not mention that President Obama’s first UN Security Council veto was against a resolution condemning Israel, and it was President Obama who assembled a potent international coalition that finally put together multinational sanctions against Iran, also unprecedented, that brought Iran to the nuclear negotiating table. And that a number of Israeli security analysts have concluded that the agreement that President Obama is attempting to achieve is the vehicle most likely to keep Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Rather than attempt to work with the US administration on an objective that is essential for Israel, Netanyahu decided to aggressively oppose any possible deal while failing to suggest a better alternative.
And, while complaining that President Obama put too much “daylight” between the US and Israel and fault him for publicly disagreeing with Israel, Oren holds president Obama to a higher standard than he does almost all previous US presidents. He ignores intense public disagreements by previous administrations, both Democratic and Republican. It is unlikely that Oren, a respected historian, has forgotten, among other presidential actions, president Dwight Eisenhower’s threats to isolate Israel during the Suez War; president Ford’s five month “reassessment” of relations with Israel accompanied by suspension of arms shipments; president Ronald Reagan’s joining a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel for destroying Iraq’s Osirak nuclear facility; or president George H.W. Bush’s opposition to loan guarantees to Israel due to settlement activity.
I’m sure Oren remembers the frosty response president George W. Bush’s administration gave to the life-saving Iron Dome missile defense system as well as Oren’s own complaint that president Bush’s sale of arms to Arab nations violated America’s pledge to maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge in the region.
Oren is correct that the ties that bind our two countries are vitally important and that the relationship between the US and Israel is essential. The former ambassador has a right to disagree with the president’s tactics, but to place the blame on President Obama distorts the facts, and presents a startlingly unfair rendition of the past seven years and conveniently ignores the history of the US-Israeli relationship throughout the years. Rather than being a constructive effort to describe recent US-Israel relations, it unfairly attacks President Obama, who has provided unprecedented support for Israel, fans the flames of discord and is deeply disappointing and inaccurate.The author is a former senior Democratic congressman of the Middle East subcommittee of the House of Representatives from California. He served from 1983-1993.