Deputy Minister Michael Oren on Thursday slammed US Secretary of State John Kerry’s address on the peace process as historically inaccurate, offensive and dangerous, and called for a total reset of US-Israel ties.
Oren, a former Israeli ambassador to Washington, also said that the outgoing administration’s critical view of the Israeli government, which culminated in the American abstention on Friday’s Security Council resolution condemning the settlements, was preordained by President Barack Obama’s insistently unwavering ideological disposition.
“Kerry’s speech was very disturbing for so many reasons,” Oren told The Times of Israel. “It is disturbing that this is the point to which US foreign policy has fallen. It’s sad, tragic and dangerous. We don’t need this relationship. We don’t need this America.”
He elaborated: “The US-Israel relationship is vital for us, for the region and I believe for the world, but we need an America whose strength and commitment to its allies is unquestioned.”
During his speech, held Thursday in Washington, the secretary of state drew a distinction between American and Israeli values and cast doubt to Israel’s commitment to democracy, Oren charged. “But he did not raise the raise the question of why those values doesn’t lead the US to do something to save hundreds of thousands of lives in our region.”
In his lengthy address, Kerry insisted that the Obama administration “cannot be true to our own values — or even the stated democratic values of Israel — and we cannot properly defend and protect Israel, if we allow a viable two-state solution to be destroyed before our own eyes.”
Oren, a member of the centrist Kulanu party who in August was appointed a deputy minister for diplomacy in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office, took offense not only with the content of Kerry’s speech but also with the tone he struck.
“When he talked about Palestinian terror and incitement he spoke with a more or less regulated voice. But when he addressed the settlements? Oh my God, he was impassioned, furious.”
Oren said he was also deeply troubled by “the systematic distortion of the historical record” in Kerry’s presentation. “In the secretary’s records, there is no Second Intifada. There was the Oslo peace agreement, but he never stopped to think why Oslo wasn’t implemented.”
Kerry also failed to acknowledge Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and wide-reaching peace offers extended by Israeli leaders in 2000 and 2006, Oren said. Furthermore, the secretary did not sufficiently address the Palestinians’ strategy to shun bilateral talks and to internationalize the conflict instead.
Oren, who served as Israel’s ambassador in Washington from 2009 and 2013, said the administration often promised him one thing and then did something else.
“It was one broken promise after the other,” he said.
Obama is guided by an ideologically rooted disdain for Israeli settlements, including the settlement blocs and Jerusalem neighborhoods outside the 1967-lines, Oren indicated. No Israeli leader — even a sworn leftist willing to dismantle most settlements — would have been able to change the president’s hostile policies vis-a-vis Israel, he postulated.
“It is the most deeply held conviction I have: that with any other (Israeli) leader, from whatever party, the result would have been the same,” Oren said. “There’s nothing we could have done changing that outcome.”
Even if Netanyahu had not accepted an invitation to address the US Congress last year to rail against the Iran nuclear deal Obama was advancing, the administration’s ostensible anti-Israel stance could not have been avoided, according to Oren. Netanyahu, he insisted, could thus not be blamed for the bad relations with Washington.
Obama was determined to combat Israel’s settlement movement from the moment he stepped into the Oval Office in early 2009, Oren continued. As ambassador in Washington, Oren advised the Israeli government “to roll with the punches” and silently accept the US’s criticism about settlement expansions. But ultimately that school of thought failed to produce results, because the president was unwilling to change his mind on any issue regarding Israel.
Since quiet diplomacy failed to achieve anything, Netanyahu is right to publicly confront the president over policies he deems detrimental to Israel’s security, Oren argued.
“We were on a collision course to last Friday starting in 2009,” Oren said, referring to the anti-settlement UN Security Council passed that day.
It is any president’s prerogative to have a worldview different from that of the Israeli government, Oren said, but Obama’s strategic decision to put “daylight” between Washington and Jerusalem made it impossible to have an “intimate” relationship, which led to an inevitable series of crises. It was impossible to frankly and productively discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because Obama was utterly unwilling to consider points of view other than his own, Oren charged.
“One hope that I have for the upcoming administration of Donald Trump is that we can enter that discussion, enable that process to move on, to create a horizon,” he said. “You can only do that if there’s no daylight and if there’s intimacy.”