Last year, Kulanu MK and former Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren received heavy criticism in some circles for his book Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide.
With the release of the book’s Hebrew edition, Oren spoke to Arutz Sheva, discussing in depth the tensions between Israel and the Obama administration and the push back he received for the English edition.
The book, which created controversy for what some considered an unfair portrayal of President Barack Obama, elicited rare public condemnations from senior officials, including former US special envoy to the Middle Easy Martin Indyk.
“When I wrote [the English edition], Martin Indyk attacked me,” Oren told Arutz Sheva.
“People got angry at me. I can say that Obama did this because he thought that if these policies were adopted, then the Arabs would come to the table. But the results were the exact opposite – it actually pushed the Arabs further away. That’s because in the Middle East if someone gets concessions without paying a price, then why pay for it afterwards? [After] all of the concessions the Arabs got right from the start from Obama they spit at him in the face.”
“Only now, after interviews with former senior American officials like Dennis Ross, and after interviews with Obama, it’s become clear that what I wrote was correct."
Oren goes so far as to claim that Obama and his administration intentionally worked to create distance between the historic allies.
“Obama chose to create the crises [between Israel and the US],” said Oren.
“There were differences of opinion with America, as there have been for years. The disagreement regarding Jerusalem has been around since 1948, the disagreement over the settlements since 1967. The thing is he chose to deal with these disagreements publicly. He chose to put diplomatic distance between the US and Israel.”
When asked what lies at the root of the difficult relations between Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and US President Obama, Oren rejected the notion that personal differences between the two leaders were responsible. He argued that Obama’s outlook on world affairs sets him apart not only from Netanyahu, but from the vast majority of Israelis.
“Obama has a worldview that would challenge any government in Israel, rightwing or leftwing. His worldview is so foreign to us. For example his intense reluctance to use military force; or his cooperation with international organizations that are always condemning us, like the Human Rights Council; reaching out his hand to the Muslims and Iran; the demand that we freeze all construction even in Jerusalem – even Meretz couldn’t freeze all the construction in Gilo – but that’s what Obama demanded.”
Speaking of the difficulty in managing the stormy relations between Israel and the Obama administration, Oren remarked “It was very difficult for me – both physically and mentally."
While he freely admits Israel’s behavior was far from perfect, he notes Netanyahu’s efforts to reach out to Obama.
“I’m not a spokesman for Netanyahu – I’m not even in his party – [but] I can say that he did a lot to try to improve the relationship. He froze construction for 10 months [in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria], something that no Prime Minister ever did before. At his Bar Ilan address he accepted [the two-state solution]. And he did a lot behind the scenes. But not only did he not get credit for what he did, every concession he made only brought demands for more. The Palestinians, on the other hand, were never asked to give anything.”
“Among [Netanyahu’s] advisers, there were differences of opinions on how to deal with Obama, and sometimes we made mistakes. But we never did so intentionally. On the other side, however, [in the Obama administration] there was a clear effort made to create diplomatic distance and at times even to create diplomatic crises.”
As an example of such a crisis, Oren cites the infamous diplomatic dustup during Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel in March 2010, calling it a “fabricated crisis” intentionally created by the Obama administration regarding a routine approval announcement for construction inside an established neighborhood in Jerusalem.
Oren also expressed some optimism for improved relations between Israel and the White House should Republicans win the presidential election in November.
“I think that if the Democrats win the election, we’ll have to deal with a Democratic platform that’s opposed to the settlements and pushes for a two-state solution; whereas on the Republican side there’s much less emphasis on that.”