Michael Oren, Israel’s former ambassador to the United States who is running as the diplomatic voice in Moshe Kahlon’s Koolanu party in the March elections, unveiled his approach to the Palestinian problem on Wednesday.
“We all want the same thing, we want an Israel that is strong, an Israel that is democratic, an Israel that is Jewish, we want an Israel that is economically prosperous. Peace is the means for achieving that goal. Peace is not an end in itself,” he told a group of young professionals in Jaffa Wednesday night, which The Jerusalem Post recorded exclusively for its weekly Frontlines Podcast.
Oren argued that in the absence of a Palestinian leader willing or able to negotiate a deal with Israel, it is up to Israel to take the initiative.
“In the West Bank today there is de facto Palestinian sovereignty over large segments of the territory,” he said. “There is in existence what is in essence a two-state situation. Not a two-state solution, but a two-state situation. It is not formal. I say take this situation and strengthen it. Make it better.”
Without closing the door to a negotiated deal, Israel should work out ways to improve lives for Palestinians such as increasing transport freedom and improving trade, he said. The Netanyahu government was not doing enough to take the initiative at a time when Palestinians were advancing their cause in the UN and ICC, he said.
He also said Israel should “focus” its settlement building to blocs that everyone knows will be part of Israel, and cites the 2004 letter from US President George W. Bush as the legal basis. By focusing on those areas alone, he said, Israel “broadcasts to the world our seriousness of the openness of that door” to a final status agreement. Asked about policies that give preferential support to settlers, however, he said that while all citizens should get benefits and opportunities, they should not get them “at the expense of anybody else.”
Oren slammed Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett’s plan to put large swathes of the West Bank under Israeli sovereignty.
“Annexing of Area C brings an immediate international embargo on the state of Israel, and I’ll tell you unequivocally, it will not be acceptable to both houses and both parties, so it’s also going to be a major problem for our relationship with the United States,” he said. He also dismissed notions that Israel should seek an alternative to the US as its main backer.
“Anybody who thinks there’s a substitute for America as Israel’s supreme ally is deluding themselves. There is no substitute.”
Asked what Israel should do if the US and Iran struck a “bad” deal in nuclear negotiations, Oren said: “Any deal that leaves Iran with the ability to achieve and break out of a nuclear capability poses a severe threat to the state of Israel and that Israel has the right, the duty and the capability to defend itself.”