Israel’s Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer joined me Tuesday morning to discuss the Obama Administration’s turn on Israel:
HH: Joined now by Ambassador Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, and a Miami Dolphins long-suffering fan who is happy they’ve finally made the playoffs, giving hope to the Browns that eventually we will return to that promised land. Ambassador Dermer, Happy New Year, good to have you.
RD: Good to be with you, and Cleveland already got some pretty good news this past year, so you have to be…spread the wealth.
HH: We’ve had a good year. We’ve had a good year.
RD: Spread the wealth.
HH: Okay, fair enough. Ambassador, I had Deputy Minister Oren on last hour, and we talked about a lot of this. But I’m going to assume for the benefit of the audience, and we’ve got a bunch of Steelers fans who don’t know anything at all about this argument that has erupted over whether or not the Western Wall is occupied territory. Can you put Resolution 2334 into the context of the dispute that reaches back to 1948?
RD: Yeah, well, first of all, you have to understand what the Palestinian national strategy is, and I think that’s key. The Palestinian national movement right now is divided into two parts. There’s one part, and that’s led by Hamas, the terror organization and Islamic Jihad, a terror organization, and they openly call for the destruction of Israel, and they use means to achieve that end by suicide bombings, by missile attacks and all sorts of things meant to basically militarily try to defeat us. But there’s another faction of the Palestinian national movement, and that’s led right now by President Mahmoud Abbas. And they say to the West, and they say in English that they want peace. But every time that they’ve been faced with a possibility of getting peace, they always walk away from the table. And what their strategy is, is very simple. They want to wage a political, diplomatic and legal war against Israel. And what this resolution has done is it actually has given the Palestinian national movement the bullets with which to wage that war, by encouraging boycotts and sanctions against Israel, by encouraging the taking of Israel soldiers to the International Criminal Court. And that’s why we think that it’s so shameful. Look, it’s an old story that the UN gangs up against Israel. It very rarely happens that the United States basically refuses to stand up to that gang up. It hasn’t happened in about 36 years since the days of Jimmy Carter. And what’s really outrageous here, Hugh, is that the U.S. actually orchestrated this gang up behind the scenes. And hopefully, we’re going to be able to mitigate the damage of this resolution with the new administration. As you saw, the President-Elect Donald Trump actually weighed in before the vote, and Israel was deeply appreciative of that, calling on President Obama to veto it. In fact, he said it should be vetoed, not even just that President Obama, that this resolution should be vetoed. And we appreciate the fact that leading members of Congress from both parties also are opposed to that. So that gives us grounds to work with a new administration and Congress to see if we can mitigate the damage. And ultimately, our goal would be to repeal it. You know, the Zionism is Racism resolution, that was sitting on the UN books for 15-16 years before we were able to repeal it. So we will try to work to repeal this, because it is outrageous to call the Western Wall occupied Palestinian territory. It is outrageous to criminalize Jews building homes in Judea. I mean, your listeners probably know this, because you’ve probably told them. The reason why Jews are called Jews is because we are the people of Judea. So now the Jewish people are foreign occupiers of Judea? Judea all of a sudden has become occupied Palestinian territory? So this is absurd, and it has to be fought.
HH: Now I have been arguing on MSNBC where I am an analyst with a bunch of lefties that this is unprecedented. And they say oh, no, President Obama gave $86 billion dollars to Israel. And I said no, the Congress did, and he signed it. He couldn’t veto it. Where do you rank President Obama in terms of opposition to Israel? I think he’s maybe not since ’56 in Suez has there been a moment of stress this great in the American-Israeli relationship?
MO: Look, I am Israel’s ambassador to the United States, and I’m not going to start ranking presidents. And when a president of the United States does something that we appreciate, we say so. But when a president of the United States does things that we oppose, we also say so. And there have been a couple of times on major issues that are of great strategic importance to Israel where we have opposed it. Obviously the biggest one of all was the Iran nuclear deal, which we opposed, because it doesn’t block Iran’s path to the bomb. It ultimately paves it, if they just wait 10-15 years, even if they keep the deal. They don’t need to sneak in or break into the nuclear club. They can walk in. And in the meantime, they now have tens of billions of dollars which will soon be hundreds of billions of dollars as they sell more and more oil to continue their campaign of terrorism against us, aggression against their neighbors, and frankly, their war against the United States, which has been going on for 36 years. So that’s a pretty big issue that has strategically caused great damage. And hopefully, we’ll see how we can mitigate that damage with the new administration and Congress. But here, you have another…
HH: I think General, General Mattis is very clear-eyed about that. I expect President-Elect Trump will be as well. The guy who is not clear-eyed, and I’d love your comment on this, is young Ben Rhodes, the novelist turned foreign affairs impresario, who was behind selling the Iran deal. And I think his handwriting is on this UN Resolution 2334. It’s kind of a sinister role he’s played here. What is the deal with him? Is this just a big head fake away from Syrian genocide and the failure of the red line and the jayvees and everything that’s been a disaster for eight years?
RD: I have no idea. You’d have to ask him. Invite him on your show. I’m sure he’ll be thrilled to come on.
RD: Look, he’s a master of a fiction. Israel has to deal with the real world, which real enemies, not with narratives, not with echo chambers. We have to deal in the real world in the Middle East with people who are trying to destroy us day in and day out. Some of them try to destroy us through military means. Others right now are seeking to weaken Israel by taking away our right of self-defense, by taking our soldiers to the International Criminal Court simply by defending themselves, and to try to take our citizens and criminalize Jews for living in Jerusalem. And the United States, unfortunately, did not block it. But it’s more than that. They actually orchestrated this behind the scenes. And it’s not only, forget about what, that it’s against Israel. I mean, that’s clear. And anyone who doesn’t understand that this is an anti-Israel resolution should see the pictures of Hamas and Islamic Jihad celebrating this resolution. When your fiercest enemies are praising a resolution at the United Nations, you could safely say that it’s not in your favor, that it’s not a pro-Israel resolution. But this resolution, it’s important for your listeners to understand, this is against U.S. policy. This is a resolution against long-standing U.S. policy. First, in principle, these issues are not resolved in the Security Council. The whole question of settlements, and this resolution goes way behind settlements, but that whole question is a final status issue that is supposed to be negotiated between the parties. And the United States is a signatory to international documents that says that this issue would be resolved between the parties. President Obama himself stood in September of 2011, and he said look, this conflict will not be resolved by resolutions at the United Nations. He said that at the United Nations. So this is against his policy and long-standing US policy since the days of Jimmy Carter.
HH: It is also…
RD: It’s not…
HH: If we go back to Oslo followed by the Wye River Memorandum, followed by Camp David, 2000, haven’t, aren’t the Palestinians de facto part of a negotiation over final borders?
RD: That’s right. They’re signatories to the Oslo Accords. And there have been two sweeping proposals that have been made to them. One of them was in 2000 when then-Palestinian president Yasser Arafat was given a sweeping proposal by our prime minister at the time, Ehud Barak, and not only did he walk away from the negotiating table, he started a terrorist war against Israel, which became known as the Second Intifada, where we had about 1,000 Israelis who were killed in a wave of suicide bombings. And it took us years to bring that to heel by both military and non-military measures. But then, you had in 2008, you had an even more sweeping peace offer from then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who gave an offer to the current Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, a president who hasn’t faced an election in about ten or eleven years, but leave that aside. He gave an offer and put a peace offer on the table, and he also didn’t respond. And the reason why is because negotiations require mutual compromise. It requires a give and take. And the Palestinians are only interested in take and take. So they walk away. And even when John Kerry did his peace process and tried to create a framework for negotiations, the Palestinians were not willing to agree to his framework. And the reason why is they don’t want to negotiate an end to the conflict, because they don’t want to end their conflict with Israel. What they want, Hugh, is they want a Palestinian state to continue the conflict, not to end the conflict. And this resolution, they will see, is a big step towards achieving that goal, because they want to internationalize the conflict to turn Israel into a pariah state, to run around the world asking companies and countries to boycott and sanction Israel, to go and haul our soldiers and leaders into the International Criminal Court, and to make Israel a pariah state. And that the United States did not only did not block, the United States, last point…
HH: So Ambassador Dermer, to mitigate this damage…
RD: The last point….
HH: Go ahead.
RD: The United States did not block this, and actually orchestrated it, is shameful. It’s absolutely shameful, and we have to work very quickly to mitigate and hopefully reverse the affects. And I think we will have many allies in doing so. That’s the good news.
HH: There are two questions I want in the three minutes we have left. One, President Sisi played a role in this, and I get the sense that we asked him to, and then he saw what Trump did, and he pulled back. And I want to know if Egypt and Israel are getting along? And secondly, how can President-Elect Trump act quickly, including moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem? Are you afraid of a third intifada if he does that? Or would you welcome that?
RD: Well, first of all, to your second question, we’d welcome moving of the embassy, and I hope it will be done as soon as possible. You know, we can’t, every time people are going to threaten with this or that action if Israel does this, I mean, we never would have built the state to begin with. We were threatened when Israel declared a state. We were threatened every step of the way by if Israel would do this or that. All of a sudden, it would lead to violence. All of a sudden, people would be outraged. We have to do what is critical for our vital national interests. Otherwise, we wouldn’t even have a state to begin with. So I hope that the President-Elect will act very quickly. And I think it will send a strong signal in the region, particularly after what has happened now, at least in recent days, that there is a big reversal of policy in Washington. And I don’t think it will undermine the prospects for peace. Actually, I think it will advance the prospect for peace, because why do we not have peace? And this is important for your listeners to understand. Because the Palestinians say that we are foreign colonialists in our own land. That’s why we don’t have peace. And they say there is no legitimacy whatsoever to a Jewish state in any boundary. And this resolution, it delegitimizes Israel in a big way. And that’s why it’s actually a blow to peace. You’re going to get peace when the Palestinians recognize that the Jews, Jewish people are in the land of Israel by right, and not just by might. And the second thing regarding Egypt, we have very strong relations with Egypt, and we appreciate the fact that they pulled this thing back. And it’s, I guess ironic or shameful or both that when President Sisi realized that this is bad for peace, President Obama thought otherwise. And I think President Sisi has much more skin in the game to ensure that our region is stable and peaceful than President Obama does. But unfortunately, President Sisi reversed course, and the United States orchestrated for this thing to be pushed forward nonetheless. And I think it’s very disappointing, a very shameful chapter in the relations between our countries. But I hope it will be a chapter that will be reversed very quickly.
HH: A short chapter, and one to be regretted. Ambassador Dermer, thanks for joining me, a Happy New Year to you, look forward to having you on early and often in 2017 as the damage is worked to be reversed by a new Congress and a new president.
End of interview.