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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Michael Oren: How Obama abandoned Israel

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, former Israeli Ambassador to the United States and current MK Michael Oren (Kulanu) criticizes Prime Minister Netanyahu's handling of his relationship with President Hussein Obama, and then rips Obama for abandoning Israel. More after the lengthy excerpt (someone was kind enough to send me the full article by email).
[M]any of Israel’s bungles were not committed by Mr. Netanyahu personally. In both episodes with Mr. Biden, for example, the announcements were issued by midlevel officials who also caught the prime minister off-guard. Nevertheless, he personally apologized to the vice president.
Mr. Netanyahu’s only premeditated misstep was his speech to Congress, which I recommended against. Even that decision, though, came in reaction to a calculated mistake by President Obama. From the moment he entered office, Mr. Obama promoted an agenda of championing the Palestinian cause and achieving a nuclear accord with Iran. 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.
The first principle was “no daylight.” The U.S. and Israel always could disagree but never openly. Doing so would encourage common enemies and render Israel vulnerable. Contrary to many of his detractors, Mr. Obama was never anti-Israel and, to his credit, he significantly strengthened security cooperation with the Jewish state. He rushed to help Israel in 2011 when the Carmel forest was devastated by fire. And yet, immediately after his first inauguration, Mr. Obama put daylight between Israel and America.
“When there is no daylight,” the president told American Jewish leaders in 2009, “Israel just sits on the sidelines and that erodes our 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.
Mr. Obama also voided President George W. Bush’s commitment to include the major settlement blocs and Jewish Jerusalem within Israel’s borders in any peace agreement. 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 President Mahmoud Abbas boycotted negotiations, reconciled with Hamas and sought statehood in the U.N.—all in violation of his commitments to the U.S.—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.
The other core principle was “no surprises.” President Obama discarded it in his first meeting with Mr. Netanyahu, in May 2009, by abruptly demanding a settlement freeze and Israeli acceptance of the two-state solution. The following month the president traveled to the Middle East, pointedly skipping Israel and addressing the Muslim world from Cairo.
Israeli leaders typically received advance copies of major American policy statements on the Middle East and could submit their comments. But Mr. Obama delivered his Cairo speech, with its unprecedented support for the Palestinians and its recognition of Iran’s right to nuclear power, without consulting Israel.
Similarly, in May 2011, the president altered 40 years of U.S. policy by endorsing the 1967 lines with land swaps—formerly the Palestinian position—as the basis for peace-making. 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.
Israel was also stunned to learn that Mr. Obama offered to sponsor a U.N. Security Council investigation of the settlements and to back Egyptian and Turkish efforts to force Israel to reveal its alleged nuclear capabilities. Mr. Netanyahu eventually agreed to a 10-month moratorium on settlement construction—the first such moratorium since 1967—and backed the creation of a Palestinian state. He was taken aback, however, when he received little credit for these concessions from Mr. Obama, who more than once publicly snubbed him.
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 U.S. 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 pre-emptively.
Finally, in 2014, Israel discovered that its primary ally had for months been secretly negotiating with its deadliest enemy. The talks resulted in an interim agreement that the great majority of Israelis considered a “bad deal” with an irrational, genocidal regime. Mr. Obama, though, insisted that Iran was a rational and potentially “very successful regional power.”
The daylight between Israel and the U.S. could not have been more blinding. And for Israelis who repeatedly heard the president pledge that he “had their backs” and “was not bluffing” about the military option, only to watch him tell an Israeli interviewer that “a military solution cannot fix” the Iranian nuclear threat, the astonishment could not have been greater.
Oren doesn't go far enough. His claim that Obama was 'never anti-Israel' doesn't square with the facts that we knew long before Obama was elected President. The fact that the one example Oren gives of 'significantly strengthened security cooperation' under Obama relates to a natural disaster and not to a military action is telling.

Oren seems to be placing the burden of restoring the US-Israel relationship to what it was on both the US and Israel. But clearly, one party here (the US in the person of the Obama administration) initiated the hostilities. The actions that Obama took immediately on taking office - the introduction of 'daylight' between the US and Israel, the Cairo speech, the Buchenwald visit in which he adopted the 'Palestinian' narrative of Israel's sole right to our land being based on the Holocaust, and the disavowal of the Bush letter - set the tone for the relationship, and it's up to Obama - more likely to his successor - to reset that tone.

Yesterday, I met with the Washington correspondent of a US-based newspaper. She asked me how Israelis feel about the United States. I told her 'Israelis love the United States and the American people. Israelis hate Obama. For good reason.'

For those who can, read the whole thing.

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