You may view the 5 minute update this week via audio:
In this week’s 5 minute update, we focused on:
1) An examination of the history of the relationship between the Obama administration and Israel
When Michael Oren was named Israel’s ambassador to the United States in 2009, he set out to learn as much as he could about America’s new president, Barack Obama. A historian by training, Oren read Obama’s works, including his memoirs, and concluded that the new leader would pursue a new foreign policy approach, including: direct outreach to the Muslim world; a renewed effort to work with international institutions, such as the United Nations.; and a “recoiling from a dependence on American military power.
Oren presented his conclusions to the Israeli government. “Not all of them were easy to hear,” he recalls. “Not all of them were palatable.” In an interview with FRONTLINE, Oren, who now serves in the Israeli Knesset as a member of the centrist Kulanu Party, speaks about the issues that occupied his time as ambassador including the peace process with the Palestinians and the Israeli settlement policy.
[In your book, you write that] when you get the job, you do research to try to understand as much as you can about who Barack Obama is. … What do you discover, … and what do you tell Netanyahu about it?
I had come into the job as ambassador not as a career diplomat but as a historian, and I used a historian’s tool to try to understand the man who is now the leader of the most powerful nation on earth and Israel’s most important ally. …
It was my job as ambassador, basically to the degree that I could, to get into his head and see the world the way he saw it, so that we could know where he was going and whether we could adapt ourselves to this worldview. …
I had to look at the things that he himself had written, the books. … He had written a book shortly after his graduation from Harvard Law School. This was in the ’90s, before, apparently, he’s contemplating running for national office. The book, Dreams of My Father, is an incredibly candid book. It’s a window into someone’s soul. … I read it many times. I have a dog-eared copy of this book.
What I discovered there was a very interesting individual, a very complex individual, but a person who had a worldview. And I began to piece together that worldview and to make certain assumptions and conclusions, and then present them to the Israeli government. Not all of them were easy to hear. Not all of them were palatable.
One was that yes, Barack Obama was a transformative president, not only the fact that he was the first African American president, but he was there to change many aspects of American foreign policy. The most obvious one, the one that most directly affected Israel, was the outreach to the Muslim world. … The president referred to himself by his full name. He, in virtually every speech, beginning with the first inaugural address, referred to his Muslim family ties. His first trips abroad are to Turkey and to Egypt. His first foreign interview on TV is with Dubai Television. And the message is always the same: I am the bridge. A big part of my family are Muslims. Here is the bridge.
There’s a line in the Cairo speech of June 2009, which is an extraordinary line. He says, “I have known Islam on three continents before coming to the region where it was revealed,” which in itself is an extraordinary statement, citing it.
Why? Because first of all, it’s the first time, to my knowledge as a historian, that a president of the United States addresses the world adherents of one faith. … It’s the center of the al-Azhar Rectory, one of the great seminaries of the Muslim world, of Islam, over the centuries. And he’s making this address to world Muslims. So it’s an extraordinary event.
The address itself is twice as long as the Second Inaugural Address, very long speech. And there are many aspects of the speech which have direct impact on Israel, the most obvious of which is the condemnation of settlements. Linking Israel’s existence and justification to the Holocaust, which was a problem from Israel — it belies the Israeli narrative that Israel arose not out of the Holocaust, but out of the 3,000-year connection with this land. And [he] recognizes Iran’s right to peaceful nuclear energy, which was a significant departure from American policy. … So that was one aspect of the worldview.
The other aspect was that the United States would work with international institutions much more, a collegial approach to managing foreign policy. America wasn’t going to be the world’s policeman anymore. Some of those institutions, like the U.N., have proven to be quite inimical to Israel over the years. So that in itself was also a problem.
There was a recoiling from a dependence on American military power. The president had one statement which sort of stayed with me over the years. The statement was, “Whether we like it or not, America is the world’s leading military superpower,” which was a line that you probably couldn’t imagine John Kennedy saying, or even Bill Clinton, certainly not Ronald Reagan. That showed that there was a reticence there, a recoiling from that type of military power. It doesn’t mean he wasn’t going to use military power; he used it very effectively with drone warfare.
All of those conclusions had to be presented to the Israeli government. This is who we’re dealing with, to the best of my knowledge.
And the reaction?
I have one more point, if I might. … I was on sabbatical for an entire year in 2008 before becoming ambassador. It’s the first time I actually lived in an American neighborhood, and I was quite shocked. I talk about, in my book, about the Rip Van Winkle effect, of waking up after 25 years and seeing everything change. It was a very different America than the America I had left nearly 40 years ago, which was very much a WASP-dominated society. This was now a country with a non-white majority. There were no Protestants, no WASPs on the Supreme Court. Unwed mothers now outnumbered wed mothers. This was an interesting America, and it was an America that I saw that Obama was as much a symptom as a cause of the transformations in America.
And as early as 2009, shortly after taking office, one of the messages that I gave to the Israeli government is that we have to plan for a two-term president, because the transformations, I believed, were permanent. …
We’ve interviewed many people in the States who were there at the moment of creation of the Obama administration, and they’re in transformative mode. … They’re also very fixated on the peace process. They say to Obama not only the things that you’ve just outlined, that Obama will be different, [but] there will be this thing that will eventually be called the Obama Doctrine, that he’ll unclench the fists, theoretically, of the Arab world, that they’ll step back a little bit from Israel, in symbolic and other ways, and that they’ll push Netanyahu around a little bit to get him involved in the peace process. Are you aware of all of that kind of churn that’s going on inside the earliest days of the Obama administration?
I was. … From an ambassadorial perspective, it was irrelevant who was responsible for the initiatives. I personally thought — and not just personally; I think it was a general Israeli approach — that they were ill conceived; that the notion of publicly pressuring Israel on the settlement issue actually pushed the Palestinians further from the negotiating table than brought them closer to it, because in the Middle East, if you’re getting something for free, why go into a negotiation where you’re going to have to pay for it? That was sort of a constant conversation which I had, which other representatives of Israel had, with the administration. We understand you don’t like settlements. Settlements are controversial in Israel themselves. I have certain strong feelings about settlements. But let’s keep our feelings about settlements separate from the tactical question of how to get the Palestinians to the negotiating table and actually sit with us.
The fact of the matter is that there was a direct correlation between the amount of pressure put publicly on Israel and the settlements and the reluctance of the Palestinians to negotiate. And eventually they just walked away from the table.
When Prime Minister Netanyahu goes for that very first meeting in [May] 2009, you are with him.
I’m with him, but I’m not ambassador yet. I’m ambassador designate. … I attended that meeting. The interesting part about it, in the meeting, there was a separate — of course, there was always a one-on-one in any meeting, … and the one-on-ones between Netanyahu and Obama, without exception, went on at least twice as long as they were scheduled each time. They met, to the best of my recollection, about 12 times. They always went on longer.
And they always emerged, usually with a sense of goodwill, smiles on their faces, lots of pats on their backs. Usually we would read the next day, or in a couple of hours, in the newspaper, how badly it had gone. …
In that first meeting of May 2009, the group session was to talk about Gaza. Keep in mind, Israel had just completed Operation Cast Lead in the previous January, only days before the inauguration, by the way, which was a major consideration for Israel in ending the operation. We didn’t want to be fighting on the day that Barack Obama became the 44th president.
The question was how then to reconstruct Gaza, which had suffered extensive damage. Our problem was that there were 1,000 tunnels under the Egyptian border and that you could bring in concrete to rebuild buildings that had been damaged in the fighting, but Hamas would grab the concrete and use it to build bunkers and tunnels. And this became the discussion. …
But I think that even Netanyahu, from what I came to understand later about the meeting, was taken aback by the departure, by the very strong departure on American foreign policy.
In what sense?
To use an administration term, there was going to be a full-court press on the settlement issue, and the settlement and Jerusalem issue, which are going to be particularly difficult for the head of Likud. This is a party with a platform and a constituency on the two-state solution. Now Netanyahu, a month later, would deliver the Bar-Ilan speech, in which he accepted the two-state solution. But at the time, he was not yet prepared. He had not laid the groundwork yet. And in a different type of environment, in a different type of rapport, you say to the president of the United States: “Listen, I’m going to come out with this, but give me a little wiggle room here; give me a little latitude. Let me lay the groundwork for this. Don’t rush it.” But I don’t think he got that type of latitude. …
My general disposition as ambassador was to say, “Let’s try to be as flexible as possible, certainly on the peace issue, because eventually we’re going to have to dig in our heels on the Iran issue.” … Occasionally I was successful in persuading people back in Israel that this was the approach. But every time the prime minister made a major concession like the Bar-Ilan speech, or like the moratorium on the settlements, which went from November 2009 until September 2010, he didn’t get much credit for it, and this cost him substantially in terms of the support in his own party.
What we needed is what’s known in diplomacy as tailwind. We needed the president to come out and say very unequivocally: “This is a major move. This is a great contribution to the peace process. This took guts on the part of Netanyahu.” Couldn’t get those statements. And ultimately, that type of approach strengthened the hands of those who were against making those kind of concessions. …
… [The diplomat] Dennis Ross told us in an interview that they were extremely naïve about being transformative … and that Cairo, in many ways, is a manifestation of that. The decision not to stop in Israel: You’re over in the neighborhood; you’re not going to stop in Israel? What kind of signals do you want to send?
Not only they didn’t stop in Israel, he went to Buchenwald, which tended to fortify the case that Israel’s justification emerged from the Holocaust. Now I don’t know if this is too much inside ball, but that’s the Arab narrative. The Arab narrative is, Europeans killed European Jews, and they dumped the survivors in Palestine, and the Arabs have to pay for Europe’s crimes against Jews. Why should Arabs pay?
Now, that narrative was problematic. Why would you make peace with an illegitimate refugee state of Europeans? So even that, in terms of tactically the peace process, was a step backward. What you want to say to the Arab world, in which Obama, to his credit, eventually did in his November 2011 speech to the General Assembly of the U.N., he says: “Israel is not about the Holocaust. Israel is about a 3,000-year Jewish claim to the area.”
But at the time, he’s got some bad advice handed to him or something?
I think this was the most centralized American administration certainly since World War II. And I learned early on that the roads of decision making, virtually without exception, led to the Oval Office. And yes, the president might have gotten advice from [White House Chief of Staff] Rahm Emanuel, from [Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton. At the end of the day, the person who really decided was the president himself. And the president’s worldview — and I will keep on harping on that — all of these decisions were very much in keeping with the worldview.
And the worldview is?
The notion of linkage is practically doctrinal in the Obama administration. What does linkage mean? That if you solve the Arab-Israeli conflict, you will solve a whole series of other conflicts in the Middle East. …
So if you believe that the Arab-Israeli conflict is the core conflict, and the core of that conflict is what the administration calls the Israeli occupation and the settlements, then that leads you, obviously, to the conclusion that you have to force Israel to give up the settlements, to talk about a two-state solution, to stop building parts of Jerusalem. …
The Arab Spring happens, and Obama goes to the State Department in May and gives the speech that I think breaks what everybody says is the sort of cardinal rule. He doesn’t let Netanyahu, doesn’t let you know that they’re about to mention the ’67 borders, that it’s going to be a part of that.
On the contrary, I was informed that they would not mention it. I was in the White House the previous day.
So tell me the story.
… The pillars of the U.S.-Israel relationship, two of the pillars had always been no daylight, no surprises. Now, that doesn’t mean that these pillars weren’t at various times dodged. Israel in 1981 attacked the Iraqi nuclear reactor without telling the United States. Israel negotiated with the PLO in September 1993 without telling the United States, rather belatedly. But those examples are few and very far between. For the most part, these two principles held.
What is “no daylight”? No daylight was, we can have our differences, and they can be sometimes very deep differences over settlements over Jerusalem. But to the greatest degree possible, we’re going to try to keep them behind the scenes and work them out between us, which was very different than the Obama administration’s position was, from the first day, to take these disagreements and put them out front. Obama was quoted in a meeting with American Jewish leaders, saying, “I intend to put daylight between Israel and the United States.” It was a decision.
No surprises meant that if the United States was going to give a major policy statement on the Middle East that would impact Israel and its security, then Israel would have a chance to view that statement in advance and to submit its comments. That was the case, in 2002, with Bush and the roadmap. He gave it to Ari Sharon before he [went] public with it.
Israel had no advance warning of the Cairo speech. Complete shock. By that time, I had been almost two years in the office, and I had grown accustomed to the fact that I was not going to get any advance warning. But on the previous day, on May 18, 2011, I was in the White House, and I asked, “OK, what’s in the speech?” There was a lot of excitement around the speech. This was going to be the president’s major address about the Arab Spring, which had broken out five months earlier in Egypt.
I was just very curious. There were rumors floating around. I had long anticipated that the administration may say something about the ’67 borders, but I received assurance that it wasn’t going to be there. And roughly a quarter of the speech of May 19 was about the ’67 borders, and it became the headline. The headline in the New York Times was, “President Obama Endorses the ’67 Borders.” The rest of the speech, about the Arab Spring, went virtually unreported. …
Now, for Israel, this was a major development. I did a lot of press at the time, and it was difficult to explain why this was so earth-shattering. Everyone knew that ’67 borders were going to be the basis of the peace agreement. That’s what the conventional wisdom was.
In diplomacy, you work out a framework for negotiations. It’s called a terms of reference, TOR. And Israel and Secretary Clinton had worked out, laboriously, over many weeks, perhaps months of negotiations, the TOR. Now, I have this TOR more or less emblazoned on my soul, to this day, and it goes something like this: The United States believes that through good-faith negotiations, it can reconcile the Israeli goal of an independent Jewish state within secure and defensible borders and the Palestinian goal of an independent Palestinian state, based on the 1967 borders with mutually agreed swaps. And there sometimes was a little add about taking into account changes on the ground, which was a reference to settlement blocs. So what in the TOR had been a Palestinian goal all of a sudden moved over to an American goal, by the way, for the first time since 1967.
Now, the ’67 borders were very problematic from Israel’s stand of view. Our major highway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem runs through the ’67 borders. The ’67 borders includes our holiest site, the Western Wall. It puts the Palestinian state’s borders within mortar range of Israel’s airport. Very problematic. …
So again, it pushed the Palestinians away from the table, but also created great problems for the prime minister, and it was a breach of trust. That was the true problem here, because peace, if you can achieve it, has got to be based on trust. It’s got to be based on mutual trust. We’re talking about the lives of our kids here. You’ve got to be able to be able to put your trust in somebody, and particularly in your best ally.
So it was quite a tense period. And Netanyahu, as it happens, comes the next day, May 20. … He was going to make a major address to AIPAC [American Israel Public Affairs Committee], and he was going to address a joint session of Congress.
… What do you think is going to happen?
I had never seen him like that coming out of the plane. You know, you come out of the plane, usually you land at Dulles or at Andrews Air Force Base, and you smile for the cameras. There was no smile. There was no wave. You can almost imagine the steam coming out of his ears. We proceeded to Blair House, where his team of advisers tried to calm it down, but he had things he wanted to say to the president. …
Does he ride in the car with you from the airport?
So what’s he like in the car?
He’s angry. He’s angry. … And I understood it. Moreover, I was the one who had sent the report the previous day that the White House had said that he wasn’t going to be there. So, you know, I become the messenger here. And the events transpired very quickly then.
We have a good meeting in the White House. There is a one-on-one that characteristically goes on more than twice its scheduled time. The two leaders emerge. They have this talk. Netanyahu gives his about-10-minute speech, which he managed to memorize very quickly. He has that capability. And the remarks are addressed to the Palestinians. The Palestinians have to understand that Israel is the Jewish state. They have to understand that Israel has to have a prolonged military presence along the Jordan River to prevent any future Palestinian state from becoming Gaza or South Lebanon.
There are a number of things that the Palestinians have to understand. They understand that Palestinian refugees are going to come back to Palestine and not to Israel. Not particularly controversial. And then afterward, the prime minister and the president stroll on the South Lawn for about 20 minutes. I’m at a respectable ambassadorial distance, but they’re having a perfectly congenial talk. The president slaps the prime minister on the back, shakes his hand, says, “Goodbye, my friend.”
We go back to the Blair House thinking, OK, we’ve gotten by this. It was unpleasant, but we’ve managed to defuse the crisis. No sooner than we’re back that the headlines blare, for the first time in history, a foreign leader has lectured the president of the United States in the Oval Office — lectured — and precisely the type of showdown at least I had hoped, and others had hoped, to their credit, had hoped to avoid.
… So you are with a lot of other guys while they’re in there for a couple of hours talking to each other, the president and Netanyahu, or for an hour and a half?
Yes. … We’re in the Roosevelt Room.
And is [White House Chief of Staff] Bill Daley and all those guys around?
Mm-hmm, they are.
And you guys were all cordial but slightly anxious about what is actually happening behind closed doors?
We actually had a serious discussion about the content of the speech. And Secretary Clinton was there and made the case that major efforts had been made to change the tone of the speech, change the content of the speech. I think she mentioned that the word “Hamas” hadn’t appeared in the speech, and that we should take this with a greater sense of equanimity.
Because you guys had indicated that there was some electric tension in the air.
I had very open channels with people in the White House. Right after the speech, I called and said, “You understand this is going to be problematic, and you understand that this is going to evoke a very strong reaction from Jerusalem.”
And they said?
That it would be a mistake to react angrily to this. …
So there they are, the two guys. And we’ve all seen the stock footage. The prime minister is talking. Obama is doing this and looking like —
He’s actually listening very intently. … He was focused. I didn’t get the sense that he was angry. I didn’t get that sense strolling around the White House lawn afterward.
But Bill Daley was angry.
Bill Daley was very angry.
He was whispering, “Who the hell does this guy think he is?”
… He didn’t say this to me; he said it to somebody else on the staff that, “Is your boss in the habit of coming to people’s houses and lecturing them?” And I only heard that back at Blair House, by which time it was all over the news anyway. But the whole point of our preparation was to avoid that moment. And, you know, diplomacy is supposedly the art of the possible. Sometimes it’s the art of the unattainable, the unachievable. And this was that moment.
Now, it begs the question whether various parties had an interest in making that a crisis moment. Now that I can’t know, but I could never rule out the possibility. The same thing was true about the so-called snub.
An agreement to divide Jerusalem and establish a PLO state is a tribulation event.
The link to these articles are as follows:
1) Michael Oren: Inside Obama-Netanyahu’s Relationship
From a Biblical prophetic perspective, the reason why the God of Israel would allow these events to happen is because it will result in the end of the exile of the house of Jacob and the reunification of the 12 tribes of Israel (Ephraim and Judah).
We will to be “watchmen on the walls of Jerusalem” and we will not rest until the God of Israel makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth (Isaiah 62).
Shalom in Yeshua the Messiah,
Hebraic Heritage Ministries Int’l