Ambassador Michael Oren, who served as Israel’s ambassador to the United States from 2009-2013, recently took off his diplomatic gloves and eviscerated the Obama administration’s “ideological” worldview toward the Middle East and its failed negotiations with Iran. Gary Rosenblatt, the editor and publisher of the New York-based Jewish Week, highlighted Oren’s remarks.
In a dialogue at The Plaza here last week at the annual Scholar-Statesman dinner of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, where he and another former Israeli ambassador to the U.S., Tel Aviv University President Itamar Rabinovich, were the honorees, Oren said that “this administration [in Washington] has a worldview that is not in accord with any Israeli government,” not just the current one. Describing the Obama administration as “ideological” on the Mideast, with the president’s 2009 outreach-to-the-Arab-world Cairo speech as its source, Oren said the White House views east Jerusalem communities like Gilo, for example, as not necessarily part of the Jewish state, a position he said no Israeli government would accept.
(Gilo is over the Green Line but part of the Jerusalem municipality, with a largely Jewish population.)
After the March 17 elections, Israel’s next government “likely will move to the right,” Oren predicted, “and America may be going a different way.”
Though he said the U.S.-Israel relationship is crucial — “we [Washington and Jerusalem] have no choice but to be allies” — he asserted on several occasions that “Israel has to take responsibility for itself.”
It was clear, if not explicitly stated, that Oren feels the Obama administration has not lived up to its “no daylight” pledge to be in sync with Israel on key strategic and diplomatic issues. (On security matters, it should be noted, Israeli officials give the U.S. high marks on cooperation. The relative quiet on the West Bank and support for Iron Dome during the Gaza war are examples.)
Oren then continued to essentially label the White House’s view toward negotiations with Iran as nonsensical.
Asked by moderator Robert Satloff, the executive director of the Washington Institute, about the West’s negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, Oren first noted that Israel’s “margin for error is exactly zero” on this issue, given Iran’s longstanding threat to destroy the Jewish state.
Then, his voice rising, he said that if you believe that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is indeed the moderate he claims to be, if you believe that Iran has reversed its policy of being the world’s leading exporter of terror, if you believe that its leaders have changed their long pattern of lying about the nuclear program, and if you believe the West is capable of and willing to respond militarily to prevent the production of a nuclear bomb, then yes, you should support the U.S. effort to reach an agreement with Iran.
“But if your children and grandchildren’s lives depended on it, you may reach a different conclusion,” he asserted, adding: “We [the Jewish people] have not come back after 2,000 years to disappear.”
The former Israeli Ambassador also stated that he has “erased the wold ‘solution’ from my vocabulary” and presented a realistic reading of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
What can be achieved, he said, is “a two-state situation” that calls for “movement” with the Palestinians incrementally. He spoke of “managing the conflict” and seeking to enhance the lives of Israelis and Palestinians through cooperation in trade, exports, etc., until conditions improve enough to explore a real peace.
Amplifying those thoughts this past weekend at the Saban Forum on the Mideast, sponsored annually by the Brookings Institute in Washington, Oren asserted that “the left in Israel has crashed because it has not yet internalized that the Palestinians are not part of the negotiations, and aren’t interested in being so. The Palestinians have chosen a different path, the destructive path of delegitimization of Israel.
“On the other hand,” he added, “the right doesn’t yet have the courage to admit that Israel isn’t able to protect its identity and its alliance with the U.S., while ruling 2.5 million Palestinians.
“Inaction isn’t an option,” he said. “Israel needs to take its fate into its own hands, and to come out with a political initiative that will serve its interests.”
On Saturday, the Times of Israel reported that Oren will be running in the upcoming Israeli elections as a member of the newly-founded Kulanu party.