Michael Oren’s four and a half years as Israel’s ambassador in Washington have not been easy. Every few months, the American president and Israeli prime minister would set off some widely publicized fire that the ambassador would try to extinguish. Every few months religious-nationalist Israel would come up with some embarrassing event that the ambassador would have to smooth over.
Oren, who grew up in New Jersey and made aliyah to Gan Shmuel, had to continually defend an Israel that progressive America had ceased to understand. The man who studied at Columbia and Princeton had to explain Israel on campuses where the Jewish state’s very legitimacy was being called into question.
Bibi’s man in America reached out to those Americas [Hispanic, black, gay] that Bibi didn’t know, while simultaneously representing Bibi in a hostile White House and before a hostile media.
The historian of the Six-Day War found himself waging a critical diplomatic struggle during a period of equal significance, in his view, to the period preceding that fateful war. As he nears the end of his term as ambassador, soon to be succeeded by Ron Dermer, Oren shares some of his insights with Haaretz readers. His words of farewell indicate that no matter what has happened already, the biggest drama still lies ahead. Fasten your seatbelts.
Haaretz: Ambassador Oren, Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu are an odd, inscrutable and dysfunctional political pair. You lived among them and mediated between them. What was the basic problem in their relationship and has it been
“President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu are very intelligent, very strong and pragmatic people. Both wanted to achieve the same aims a solution of two statesfor two peoples, and preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. So their disagreements were not strategic but tactical. They met 11 times. Obama says that he met with Bibi more than he met with any other world leader. They’ve spent hours talking on the phone. I can attest that the conversations were open, candid and friendly. There were laughs, too. Obama is a very funny guy with a sharp, quick and witty sense of humor. I’m not trying to whitewash anything here. There were disagreements and there were some difficult moments. But we did not experience any genuine crises in the past four and a half years.
“In the past there were such crises: during the siege of Beirut, at the time of the Pollard affair, over the sale of the AWACS planes to Saudi Arabia and over the Israeli arms sale to China. The crisis that arose from the arms sale to China was a very deep and serious crisis that is still having an unsettling effect on our ties with Washington. But that crisis was hidden from view. In contrast, during the Obama-Netanyahu era there was a whole series of supposed crises, none of which was a genuine crisis. The public atmosphere was one of tension but behind the scenes we worked together …read more