In the past week, Knesset Member Michael Oren (Kulanu) has been accused by US officials and American Jewish leaders of distorting the truth about US-Israel relations during his tenure as ambassador to the US from 2009-2013.
As he tours the US plugging his new book, here are four critical questions that Oren should answer:
Question 1: Does US disagreement with Israeli policy always “encourage common enemies and render Israel vulnerable?” Should the US keep quiet if Israel’s government advances a policy that threatens Israel’s security, democracy or founding principles?
Oren claims that President Obama has abandoned a core principle of the “special relationship”–that of “no daylight” or public disagreement, between the US and Israel. But since Israel’s founding, this concept has never truly described relations with the US. As columnist Peter Beinart points out, “George H.W. Bush not only denounced Israeli settlement building but withheld loan guarantees in an effort to force Israel to comply,” while “Bill Clinton laid out parameters for a final peace agreement that, on Jerusalem, refugees and the size of a Palestinian state, went further than Ehud Barak felt comfortable.”
The long record of daylight between the two allies is actually a testament to the strength of our friendship. Rather than endorsing every policy of the Israeli government, the US administration has worked with Israel to advance the shared interests and values on which our alliance is founded. And when the Israeli government has expanded settlements and pursued other policies which undermine its commitment to those values, American Presidents have not shied from saying so.
Question 2: Is Israeli settlement expansion consistent with Israel’s commitment to a two-state solution? Do you agree with Israel’s Supreme Court and every US President since 1967 that the West Bank is occupied territory?
Calling Prime Minister Netanyahu’s recent address to Congress his “only premeditated misstep,” Oren has largely dismissed the effects of Israel’s settlement policies on the peace process. This is significantly out of step with most American Jews, who believe by a margin of 44% to 17% that building in the settlements hurts Israel’s security. Since 1967 (long before Obama), the US has designated the West Bank as occupied territory and opposed Israeli settlement there. By expanding Israeli control over territory the Palestinians claim as their own, settlements complicate the territorial compromises that will be necessary for peace, and raise doubt that Israeli is negotiating in good faith.
Question 3: If you don’t believe a two-state solution to be possible in the near future, what is your solution? How else can Israel stop the cycle of war and terrorism and safeguard its Jewish character and democracy?
In a recent interview, Oren expressed skepticism that American Jews fully understand the risk of Hamas or ISIS taking over a Palestinian state in the event of a two-state solution. This is clearly an important consideration, and there is already a risk that the Palestinian Authority could fall to a more extreme rival. But Oren assumes that these dangers are not greater without a two-state solution–an argument refuted by hundreds within Israel’s military establishment who see the continued occupation of millions of Palestinians as a serious threat to Israel’s security and international standing. Even Netanyahu has warned that if Jews become a minority in the land under Israeli control, it could risk the country’s democracy and Jewish character. Many American and Israeli political and military leaders now see the two-state solution as Israel’s best chance to make peace with its neighbors and unite against extremism.
Question 4: How do we prevent a nuclear-armed Iran if the current negotiations collapse? Do you support a military strike on Iranian facilities?
Oren has denounced the emerging nuclear agreement with Iran as “a bad deal,” though he is vague about the alternatives. While the deal will likely require tough concessions from both sides, it would impose the strictest monitoring and inspections regime in history, and cut off every pathway that Iran could take to acquire a nuclear weapon. On the other hand, if negotiations collapse, Russia and China would likely resume business with Iran, causing international sanctions to collapse and allowing Iran to resume the most concerning aspects of its program unmonitored. For this reason, a sizable majority of American Jews supports the agreement, and some Israeli generals have started to come forward as well.