Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren writes in the New York Times to cool temperatures and to remind the Obama administration of where we stand. His language is diplomatic; his message, blunt. We’ll attempt to translate.
First, the explanation as to what occurred:
[A] mid-level official in the Interior Ministry announced an interim planning phase in the expansion of Ramat Shlomo, a northern Jerusalem neighborhood. While this discord was unfortunate, it was not a historic low point in United States-Israel relations; nor did I ever say that it was, contrary to some reports.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had no desire during a vice presidential visit to highlight longstanding differences between the United States and Israel on building on the other side of the 1949 armistice line that once divided Jerusalem. The prime minister repeatedly apologized for the timing of the announcement and pledged to prevent such embarrassing incidents from recurring. In reply, the Obama administration asked Israel to reaffirm its commitment to the peace process and to its bilateral relations with the United States. Israel is dedicated to both.
Undiplomatic translation: I’m not bringing up, as many news outlets reported, that Hillary Clinton is demanding a reversal of the housing announcement and some other, unnamed concessions. Because that’s not going to happen.
Then Oren sets out to put the dispute in context and disabuse Obama and other feckless lawmakers and analysts of the notion that the recent move was extraordinary. “That [Jerusalem] policy is not Mr. Netanyahu’s alone but was also that of former Prime Ministers Ehud Barak, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Golda Meir — in fact of every Israeli government going back to the city’s reunification in 1967. Consistently, Israel has held that Jerusalem should remain its undivided capital and that both Jews and Arabs have the right to build anywhere in the city.”
Undiplomatic translation: This is not unknown to the Obami, of course. They may be dim, but someone there knows this was nothing out of the ordinary and in keeping with Israeli policy and conduct for decades.
And as for Ramat Shlomo and other similar neighborhoods, Oren argues, “though on land incorporated into Israel in 1967, are home to nearly half of the city’s Jewish population. Isolated from Arab neighborhoods and within a couple of miles of downtown Jerusalem, these Jewish neighborhoods will surely remain a part of Israel after any peace agreement with the Palestinians. Israelis across the political spectrum are opposed to restrictions on building in these neighborhoods, and even more opposed to the idea of uprooting hundreds of thousands of their fellow citizens.”
Undiplomatic translation: And this, Mr. Obama, is what you choose to have a fight over?
None of this, Oren reminds us, is a barrier to negotiating final-status issues in face-to-face negotiations, something the Palestinians have rejected.
Oren then delivers the real message to the Obami:
To achieve peace, Israel is asked to take monumental risks, including sacrificing land next to our major industrial areas and cities. Previous withdrawals, from Lebanon and Gaza, brought not peace but rather thousands of rockets raining down on our neighborhoods.
Though Israel will always ultimately rely on the courage of its own defense forces, America’s commitment to Israel’s security is essential to give Israelis the confidence to take risks for peace. Similarly, American-Israeli cooperation is vital to meeting the direst challenge facing both countries and the entire world: denying nuclear weapons to Iran.
The undiplomatic translation: This is no way to gain our cooperation.
Oren concludes by reciting Joe Biden’s words back to him — as if to remind his American allies that their actions conflict with their stated objectives. (“During his visit, Vice President Biden declared that support for Israel is ‘a fundamental national self-interest on the part of the United States’ and that America ‘has no better friend in the community of nations than Israel.’”)
Undiplomatic translation: So perhaps America should start acting like a devoted ally?
It is not every day that the Israeli ambassador has the opportunity, with a worldwide audience primed to listen, to restate the historical and geographic facts — which sadly don’t always make it into mainstream reporting. If there are sane voices within the administration, they will read this carefully, take Oren’s words to heart, and take up his suggestion: start to behave as if this relationship is the most important in the region and with some understanding of the events leading up to this point. Are the Obami up to it? Stay tuned, but I have my doubts.