Dr. Michael Oren, Israel’s Deputy Minister for Diplomacy, joined me Tuesday morning to discuss the Obama Administration’s turn on Israel:
HH: Dr. Michael Oren joins us from Israel. Dr. Oren, welcome back, Deputy Minister for Diplomacy of the state of Israel. Great to have you this morning.
MO: It is always great to be with you, Hugh.
HH: I have to begin by asking, you’re such a great historian, will you reset what the dispute over the territory is and why the Western Wall is not occupied territory, as the UN Resolution 2332 declares it to be?
MO: It’s, okay, I’ll try to do it as quickly as possible. In 1947, the UN declared that Palestine, as it was then known, would be partitioned into two states – an Arab state and an Jewish state. Notice, not a Palestinian state, but an Arab state. The Palestinians didn’t quite exist, yet, and at least not on the international radar. And the Arabs went to war to destroy the Jewish state when it was created on May 14, 1948. And the city of Jerusalem was divided. The eastern part of the city was occupied by the Jordanians, the West Bank was occupied by the Jordanians. In June, 1967, the Jordanians attacked Israel again. Israel repulsed the attack, reunited Jerusalem under Israeli rule, and captured the West Bank, or as we call it, Judea and Samaria. It is not occupied by international law, because the West Bank and East Jerusalem was never part of a recognized sovereign country. Nobody in the world, except for Britain and Pakistan, recognized the Jordanian annexation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. So the entire international law claim is spurious. But when Israel reunited the city and reunited the city, the Western Wall is in the eastern part of the city. The old city is in the eastern part of the city. We certainly can’t consider our homeland for 3,000 years to be occupied territory. You know, tell a member of the Sioux Nation that his tribal lands are occupied and he can’t live on them. That’s what the UN is telling us. They’re telling us more than that, that by living in them, we’re criminals.
HH: Yeah, this audience has heard Steven Pressfield talk about The Lion’s Gate, the book that will bring people to tears. And you’ve talked about it in your histories as well. It just is absurd. So what happened? Why would the United States do this? And what was the United States’ role in Resolution 2332, which was not vetoed in a breach of American policy that is as bad for the country of Israel as it is for the Palestinians and indeed the world?
MO: It’s bad for the world, and it’s bad for the United States, too, Hugh, and I’ll explain why. The American role was to stand back and let Israel take a tremendous hit, a tremendous hit that will expose us to sanctions and boycotts. It will kill the peace process. It will deliver a deadly, deadly blow to the people of the Middle East who look to the UN for salvation and get absolutely none at a time when hundreds of thousands of people are being massacred here. What does the UN do? It beats up on the Middle East’s only democracy. And America’s role, according to Prime Minister Netanyahu, was to cook it all up and to do some arm twisting and make it happen? Why? The Obama administration did this, I can recommend another book, I can’t do that because I’m in government, where it explains the Obama’s worldview, a worldview that sees the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the core conflict of the Middle East, sees the core of that conflict, the settlement and the occupation, as he calls it, and was going to do his utmost to his last day in office to discredit and delegitimize Israel for our position in settling our homeland and reuniting our ancestral capital, Jerusalem.
HH: Now Minister Oren, I have said for a long time that the Obama presidency is a six word presidency – leading from behind, red line and jayvees. Now, I’m going to add anti-Israel to that. And I do understand that worldview, but there is this Ben Rhodes figure here who sold the Iran deal on false pretenses. Now, he’s got a role in this. I can’t be, it’s kind of a sinister role in this drama. Why is Rhodes so anti-Israel? What did Israel ever do to him?
MO: No, Ben Rhodes has described himself to the New York Times as sort of an alter-ego of Obama, and that their brains are actually inseparable. He, according again to that New York Times interview, sold the Iran deal on false premises. We were not told the truth on the Iran deal for months, and indeed years. And now, he’s trying to claim that this move of basically criminalizing Israel for its policies and rendering us vulnerable to sanctions and boycotts, somehow, this is related to some recent debates in Israel over the settlement policy. But it’s categorically untrue. I have headed the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee in Knesset before my present job. I’m now the deputy minister for diplomacy. But as the head of that committee over a year ago, we held discussions on what Obama would do that would be very, very problematic for us during the three month period between the elections and the inauguration. And we were geared for this. We knew this was going to happen. And we remain on very much high alert. And I must tell you, Hugh, I’m a historian by training. And I have a historian’s view. And Israel has encountered many, and indeed monumental challenges in our history, many of them military. But it’s hard for me to identify two challenges as serious as this and the Iran deal that we have faced since, say, the moment of our creation outside of our war of independence. The Iran deal, which will enable Iran in about a decade to produce not one but hundreds of nuclear weapons, and this deal, which will expose us to de-legitimization, sanctions and boycott. We have our hands full because of this.
HH: That’s why I’ve argued on NBC and other places that President Obama will go down in history as the most anti-Israel president since Eisenhower in ’56 at least. Let me ask you, how much of this is an attempt to divert attention from America’s failure in Syria and the world’s failure in Syria? Not far from where you’re talking to me is a catastrophe, a humanitarian genocide in Aleppo, a disaster for the UN, and for the United States and for its ambassador, Samantha Powers, who you know, Ms. Anti-Genocide. We’ve done nothing. How much of this is a sideshow to divert attention from that failure?
MO: Yeah, it’s about two hours from where I’m talking to you, Hugh, is the Syrian genocide. It, I don’t think it’s an attempt to divert. I think it’s part of the worldview. In that worldview, Syria is a quagmire, and it’s a no-win situation. It involves boots on the ground. It means projecting American military power on the ground, or by sea, and as part of the worldview, that is not, that’s not an option. Obama was about ending Middle Eastern wars, not starting them. And again, the other part of the worldview is beating up on Israel because of our policies about Jerusalem and the settlements. That began on Day One, in January of 2009. And nothing’s changed. What I find so interesting, again, let me step back as kind of the academician, is the degree to which the radically changed realities in the Middle East have not impacted that worldview at all. It remains impervious to experience.
HH: Let me ask you, and I’ll post this on the website, Mr. Ambassador, so people can understand this, and we’ll rebroadcast it in the third hour. Is there an attempt here to box in Donald Trump on moving the embassy to Jerusalem? The President-Elect has said he’s going to do that. Kellyanne Conway has said it’s going to happen on this radio show. Do you welcome that? And do you see this as an attempt to stop President-Elect Trump from doing that?
MO: Well, let me work it backwards. We welcome the movement of the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It’s six to eight years late, and I don’t think that anybody can stop Donald Trump if he’s intending on doing it.
HH: Six to eight years late. So you expect it to happen?
MO: Sixty-eight years late.
HH: Okay, sixty-eight.
MO: Since 1948.
HH: And so do you expect it to happen quickly in President-Elect Trump’s administration?
MO: I hope it will.
HH: And you’re not afraid of, some people have said that will launch another intifada. You’re not afraid of that?
MO: Not afraid of it, no. Not afraid of a thing.
HH: Deputy Minister Oren, great to have you, thank you for joining me, and good luck in fighting back on this. Thank you.
MO: Always great, Hugh. Thank you very much. Bye bye.
End of interview.