Michael Oren was Israel’s ambassador to the United States from 2009 until 2013. In a new book he offers an insider’s view of the Obama administration’s policy toward the nation that is supposed to be America’s closest ally in the Middle East.
In a Wall Street Journal column today Oren outlined his argument: President Obama purposefully chose to alienate Israel in order to support the Palestinian cause and to concoct a nuclear arms deal with Iran.
I have not read Oren’s book, but I note that he does not, in his column, mention the name of Obama’s secretary of state, Hillary Clinton. Will Hillary be able to continue to lure Jewish voters to the Democratic Party by pretending that she had nothing to do with Obama’s turn away from Israel? All things considered, the odds are fairly good that she will.
Oren noted that Obama had his own way of trying to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He sided with the Palestinians:
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.
Since Obama had learned from Rev. Jeremiah Wright that the major problem was the Israelis he downgraded the relationship between the two countries by openly disagreeing with Israel. Without the support of its strongest ally, Israel would have to make more concessions. Obama's policy is based on extracting Israeli concessions while demanding nothing of the other side.
Other American presidents have developed excellent relationships with Arab allies. No other American president has done it at the expense of his relationship with Israel. Of course, Obama could act with impunity against Israel because he knew that American Jews would in very large numbers support him.
The old policy, where the two nations avoided public disagreements, was dubbed “no daylight.” Obama decided to criticize Israel openly.
In Oren’s words:
“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.
On settlements, Obama broke with his predecessor:
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.
The consequences were not quite what Obama expected. The Palestinians came to believe that Obama had abandoned Israel and that he was supporting their cause. They counted it as a win and refused to negotiate with Israel. Intransigence seemed like a winning policy.
If the Netanyahu government announced that it was building homes for Jew in Jerusalem, the Obama administration reacted with fury. When Mahmoud Abbas formed an alliance with Hamas, the same administration had nothing to say:
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.
Obama also abandoned the established principle of “no surprises.” America and Israel had coordinated foreign policy and had consulted with each other before making major policy shifts that involved the other nation.
Oren explained that, from the first, Obama signaled that he had no interest in cooperating with Israel. He wanted to show it who was boss, and to push it around.
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.
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.
That was not all:
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.
Lusting after a deal with Iran, Obama has feared an Israeli attack on the Iranian nuclear facilities. One notes that if there is such an attack it will involve the cooperation of Saudi Arabia and Emirates.
The administration has done what it could to forestall such an eventuality:
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.
Perhaps more than anything else Israel fears that Obama does not understand the evil lurking in Tehran:
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.”