What to make out of yesterday's report in Ha'aretz that Amb. Michael Oren, meeting with Israeli diplomats in Jerusalem, said the U.S. and Israel are in a “tectonic rift” and drifting apart?
Oren, who's been doing a lot of clarifying lately, denied the report, which was based on anonymous sources – but a lot of them. I'm guessing the gist of the report is accurate – mostly because his comments are generally accurate.
Let's look at the report piece by piece.
Oren reportedly told assembled Israeli diplomats that there's no crisis in U.S.-Israel relations, but that “relations are in the state of a tectonic rift in which continents are drifting apart.”
Both parts are probably accurate. Leaders in Washington and Jerusalem, for political and diplomatic reasons, have a strong interest in maintaining close strategic ties and avoiding unnecessary clashes over the stalled Middle East peace process. Both have worked hard in the past few months to ease the tensions that rocked the relationship earlier this year.
But it's also clear that the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government are on different tracks, headed in different directions when it comes to the critical issues of the day, starting with Israeli-Palestinian peace.
Oren, according to Ha'aretz, also “noted that contrary to Obama’s predecessors − George W. Bush and Bill Clinton − the current president is not motivated by historical-ideological sentiments toward Israel but by cold interests and considerations.”
Well, that's casting the issue in a particularly negative light, but there's little question this president is much less inclined to take the view that whatever Israel does is OK by us and that Israeli interests never conflict with ours.
Bush saw the world in start good-versus-evil terms, and Israel was on our side – on the side of good, and that's all he needed to know.
President Obama sees a world full of nuance and a vastly complex nexus of U.S. interests that doesn't mesh at all with the black-and-while view that dominated the Bush administration.
And Oren reportedly said that while his access to top administration officials remains good, Obama retains very tight control over this administration and is hard to influence, and that it is pretty much a “one-man show” at the White House.
Check: true again.
So where, exactly, was Oren wrong? Or was the problem in the Ha'aretz headline: “Envoy to Washington fears U.S.-Israeli relations in ‘tectonic rift,’ diplomats say,” and the generally negative spin of the story?
Or was it just that Israel and its friends get very nervous about any hint that U.S. and Israeli interests aren't 100 percent in synch – when any historian can tell you no allies are ever in total agreement on every issue?
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