US president Barack Obama’s controversial interview last week in which he repeatedly criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu proves that he has “selective memory” about the Israel-related events of his presidency, Kulanu MK Michael Oren said Sunday.
Oren served as ambassador to the US during the during the first four and a half years of Obama’s presidency. He wrote the book Ally about the experience, which has just been published in Hebrew.
Obama summarized his foreign policy doctrine in the interview with his close confidant, Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic.
Goldberg wrote about how in a meeting with Obama, Netanyahu “launched into something of a lecture about the dangers of the brutal region in which he lives, and Obama felt that Netanyahu was behaving in a condescending fashion, and was also avoiding the subject at hand: peace negotiations.
“Finally, the president interrupted the prime minister: “Bibi, you have to understand something,” he said. “I’m the African American son of a single mother, and I live here, in this house. I live in the White House. I managed to get elected president of the United States.
You think I don’t understand what you’re talking about, but I do.”
Oren said the meeting in which the lecture was supposed to have taken place was in May 2011, but that could not have happened because the private meeting between the two of them happened before they spoke to the press, not after.
The former ambassador was dismayed to read Goldberg write that “Some of [Obama’s] deepest disappointments concern Middle Eastern leaders themselves,” among whom “Benjamin Netanyahu is in his own category,” because he deemed him “too fearful and politically paralyzed” to bring about a two-state solution.
“Bibi is in a category by himself?” Oren asked. “More than [the late Lybian leader Muammar] Gaddafi, [Syrian dictator Bashar] Assad, [former Eyptian president Hosni] Mubarak, and [former Iranian president Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad?” Oren complained that Obama did not give credit to Netanyahu for steps he took toward the Palestinians or hold accountable Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, who he did not mention in the interview, for rejecting repeated American peace initiatives.
“The article is missing the faintest reference to Abbas,” Oren said. “This shows prejudice against Arabs, as if they have no role to play and are mere two dimensional props for receiving Israeli concessions. Abbas walked away from the negotiating table.
Why don’t Palestinians ever bear responsibility for a failed peace process? Why is it only on Netanyahu’s shoulders?” When Goldberg asked Obama what he had hoped to accomplish with his controversial June 2009 speech to the Muslim world in Cairo, he said “My argument was this: Let’s all stop pretending that the cause of the Middle East’s problems is Israel.”
But Oren said everything he was told by Obama and his advisers during his tenure in Washington proved that Obama indeed thought Israel and its conflict with the Palestinians was the core conflict and responsible for all the region’s problems.
“Reading the text of the speech, the case makes the opposite claim, that it is the core conflict,” Oren said. “The Obama administration’s policy was linkage- that if you solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, you solve every problem in the Middle East.” Goldberg wrote that “according to [former defense secretary] Leon Panetta, [Obama] has questioned why the U.S. should maintain Israel’s so-called qualitative military edge, which grants it access to more sophisticated weapons systems than America’s Arab allies receive.”
Oren said he was surprised to read that, because Obama repeatedly claimed that there was no daylight between Israel and the US on security issues. He said Goldberg should have asked Obama how ending the qualitative military edge fits that claim.
“The QME is of paramount strategic interest to Israel, especially when very sophisticated weapons being given to Arab countries,” Oren said. “For him to question keeping it is strange because it’s grounded in Congressional law.” In the interview, Obama said he was not bluffing when he threratened to attack Iran if it broke out as a nuclear power.
But Oren said such a claim was hard to believe because Obama clearly sought a deal with Iran from the start of his presidency.
“The interview was a fascinating window to a man who wants to detach from Middle East and questions America’s old alliances,” Oren said. “On Israel, Egypt, Libya, Syria, and Yemen this president got it wrong. On the one issue that is crucial for our children- Iran – can we assume he will get it right?”