Into the Fray: My (renewed) challenge to Michael Oren



When someone who was one of Israel’s best known diplomats touts such silliness, it is difficult to know what is more disconcerting: Whether he actually believes what he is preaching, or whether he doesn’t.

Former Israeli ambassador to US Michael Oren

Ambassador (ret.) Michael Oren: Israel must take its fate in its own hands and adopt measures that are a riposte to any Palestinian effort to declare a state unilaterally at the UN…we must not sit idly but declare what our borders are; borders that leave the maximum number of Israelis on our side and afford maximum security for Israeli citizens.

Interviewer: You are talking about a unilateral measure similar to what Ehud Olmert called “Conversion.”


Michael Oren: We should learn from past mistakes…there are dangers involved in all situations – even a two-state one, which by the way is always the preferred solution, a solution that emerges from mutual negotiations. But if this is impossible, we cannot deliver our destiny into the hands of the Palestinians or any external party, [we must] take the required steps to preserve our identity as a democratic and Jewish state, and if possible, acquire American support for these measures. – Interview with Michael Oren on what Israel should do if the negotiations with the Palestinians fail, Channel 2, March 22.

Three months ago, I called on former-ambassador Michael Oren to meet me in a public debate over his support for unilateral withdrawal from much of Judea-Samaria, if negotiations on a Palestinian state fail (See “A public challenge to Michael Oren,” January 23).

Unanswered challenge

In the column, I challenged Oren to address what I saw as the numerous and dangerous lacunae in his policy proposal, to elaborate on its prospective implementation, and to explain how any benefits would, in fact, accrue from such implementation.

I challenged him to give some idea of his envisioned post-unilateral evacuation map, of the frontiers to which he sees Israel withdrawing, and of how they would be demarcated and secured.

I called on him to designate which portions of the western slopes of the Judean-Samarian highlands that command the heavily- populated coastal plain, Israel’s only international airport, much of the trans-Israel highway, and vital infrastructure installations, he would, unilaterally, include under Israeli jurisdiction, and which portions he would, unilaterally, exclude.

These, and other trenchant questions, regarding the feasibility and advisability of his proposed policy paradigm went unanswered – and with good reason. For any attempt to translate Oren’s (or any other) unilateral prescription from the conceptual to the concrete will quickly reveal it to be, at best, impractical imbecility—or worse, deliberately detrimental.

Oxymoronic formula

It pains me to have to resort to such harsh language with regard to the affable Oren, with whom I have always maintained an amicable relationship, and who, has devoted much of his adult life to meritorious service to his country.

But lives – many lives – are at stake and his current proposal is so patently preposterous and perilous that it must be condemned in the strongest possible terms, exposed as the hallucinatory hazard it truly is, and dispatched swiftly from the public discourse, with the scorn it richly deserves.

Significantly, Oren’s reluctance to provide any substantive responses regarding the practicalities of his proposed policy prescription extended beyond picking up the gauntlet thrown him in my January column.

In the numerous interviews with the media since then he has shied away from specifics, adhering to broad generalities.

According to one media outlet Oren was

“More interested in promoting a theoretical discussion than in issuing concrete policy recommendations.”

Thus, he has stubbornly “refused to sketch the boundaries of his imagined Palestinian state, but explained that there should be ‘as many Palestinians as possible in the Palestinian state, and as many Israelis as possible in Israel.’” But this, beyond being a banal expression of generic good intentions, is operationally meaningless – worse, essentially self-contradictory – especially if we add his proviso that the unilaterally determined frontiers “afford maximum security for Israeli citizens.”

For any frontier designed to minimize the Palestinian presence within them will necessarily leave Israel’s coastal plain hopelessly vulnerable to the kind of attacks the residents of the south experience from Gaza.

Moreover, any attempt to include the major settlement blocs in such frontiers will make them implausibly contorted, and excessively lengthy to demarcate and secure effectively.

Oxymoronic (cont)

But the glaring internal contradictions in Oren’s policy paradigm are not confined to the question of frontiers, but extend to its conceptual coherence as well. Indeed, as I pointed out in my previous column, it raises many other thorny questions.

For example: Who does he see administering the “unoccupied” Palestinian territories? Who will supply them water, electricity, postal services, tax collection?

If, as is likely, the Palestinian Authority will – with good reason – refuse to take responsibility for what Israel deigns to confer on it unilaterally, who will provide civilian services to the population? What of trans-frontier issues such as sewage flows, carcinogenic pollution from Palestinian industries – particularly charcoal production, contagious disease control? And if, as in Gaza, extremists take over the reins of power, how would he recommend Israel respond? I challenged – and continue to challenge – him to address these and numerous other issues, particularly in light of his somewhat forlorn hope of acquiring American support for his proposed measures.

After all, in a recent interview (February 26), he was quoted as stipulating: “In any such [unilateral] move, Israel would…maintain its military presence in crucial areas. And it would also ensure the continued unity of Jerusalem.”

So is Oren seriously suggesting that Washington – especially the current administration – would endorse a move that entails unilateral expropriation of land claimed by the Palestinians, including a united Jerusalem, presumably together with the adjacent Jewish communities (to ensure “the maximum number of Israelis on our side”); and with the IDF remaining deployed in, at least part of, the “evacuated territory” – creating a situation very reminiscent of its deployment in pre-2000 southern Lebanon? If so, it would be intriguing to learn on what he, as former envoy to the US, bases his assessment. Again, I challenge him to make public such crucial information—or desist from leading the public astray.

Dubious demographic dividend

Playing the usual “demography card,” Oren warns that, in the absence of his preferred two-state resolution, unilateralism is the only way to preserve Israel as a Jewish- majority democracy.

But as I argued, in some detail, in my earlier column, unilateralism is liable to have a negative demographic impact. Here is a brief synopsis: In the evacuated areas, it will inevitably result in the presence of a large, impoverished Arab population with GDP per capita about 5% that in Israel. Like along the US-Mexican frontier, this cannot but generate irresistible economic pressures for a large Arab influx into the country. Contending with this phenomenon would be made all the more onerous by the inevitably contorted nature of any frontier, conforming to the parameters laid down by Oren.

But the demographic balance in the country is not only a function of the number of Arabs. So is the number of Jews.

Accordingly, even without the plausible specter of an economically-induced Arab inflow, what the unilateralists ignore is the detrimental effect their proposal is likely to have on the Jewish side of the demographic equation.

Israel can only retain its Jewish character if it retains its Jewish population and its ability to attract Jews from around the world. But this is possible only if Israel affords them acceptable security and prosperity. Nothing would make it a less inviting choice than visiting the realities of Sderot on Greater Tel Aviv, and adjacent upmarket locations like Ra’anana, Ramat Gan, and Herzliya.

Significantly, despite the massive wave of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, Israel’s Muslim population, WITHIN THE PRE-1967 GREEN LINE, has almost doubled as a proportion of the overall population – from just over 9% in 1949 to almost 18% in 2011.

Now imagine the impact of a mass exodus of Jews – coupled with dramatically reduced immigration – due to a gravely deteriorating security situation…

All pain, no gain

Indeed, the more one delves into Oren’s proposal, the more implausible it appears.

Indeed, it is difficult to discern how any benefits might accrue to Israel as a result of its implementation.

It is more than a little fanciful to suggest that it would in anyway attenuate the intensity of the conflict. For whatever Oren’s post-unilateral withdrawal frontiers may be, they are hardly likely to reduce the scope of Palestinian territorial demands. On the contrary, they would merely serve as a new point-of-departure for further claims – from greatly enhanced positions.

On the diplomatic/delegitimization front, any amelioration of Israel’s position is hardly likely. Clearly, any unilateral annexation of the large settlement blocs, which Oren presumably would include in his yet-to-bespecified borders, would be perceived by the Palestinians, and international community, as an Israeli “land-grab”.

Indeed, even the far-Left seems alive to this lamentable inevitability. Thus, Gadi Baltiansky, the director of the Geneva Initiative, states the painfully obvious: “No international body will recognize the borders that you drew unilaterally. You will not get international legitimacy, or recognition of Jerusalem.”

Clearly then Oren’s policy prescription is a fatally flawed formula that offers only pain, and no gain. It will enhance neither Israel’s security on the ground, nor its standing in the world.

When someone who was one of Israel’s highest-profile diplomats touts this kind of silliness, it is difficult to know what is more disconcerting: Whether he actually believes what he is preaching, or whether he is preaching it despite the fact he doesn’t.

‘B’ stands for ‘bad’

Admittedly, Oren suggests that his unilateral proposal should be considered as a “Plan B” option, to be implemented only if negotiations over a two-state solution fail, and in response to the Palestinians seeking unilateral recognition of statehood at the UN—which he deems the Palestinians’ “Plan B”.

But even as a Plan “B”, it is bad, very bad.

It is poorly thought through, reflects a sense of desperation, despair – and a desire for a “quick fix”. This, in many ways mirrors the characteristics of the calls for a single state and offering permanent residency/ citizenship to the Arabs of Judea-Samaria.

These, once the exclusive province of the radical Left, are now being advanced by many on the allegedly “hard” Right.

While the one purports to address Israel’s demographic imperative by making it geographically untenable – even if it does not involve a full withdrawal the pre-1967 lines, the other purports to address Israel’s geographic imperative by making it demographically untenable – even if a Jewish majority is maintained.

Both attempt to disguise what is essentially intellectual surrender by a false display of hubris – portraying them as bold Zionist initiatives, when in reality they both would doom – or at least, gravely imperil – the Zionist enterprise they profess to preserve.

Better ‘Plan B’

But Oren is right about one thing. Israel should have a Plan B should the Palestinians take the path of unilateral declaration of statehood.

And indeed an appropriate Zionist “Plan B” is possible – but it would involve elements very different from those of the unilateralists – or the one-staters. It would drop the pretense that the Palestinians, could, at some future time, become either potential peace partners – or potentially loyal Israeli residents. It would involve relating to them as what they really are: implacable enemies.

In a brutally condensed nutshell, such a “Plan B” would entail conveying unequivocally to the Palestinian enemy – and to their UN supporters – that if it is independence they demand, then independence they will have. Accordingly, unless their unilateral bid for statehood is terminated, Israel will terminate the supply of every service and all merchandise that it provides today. In other words, no water, no electricity, no fuel, no postal services, no communications, no port facilities, no tax collection will be supplied by Israel.

Undoubtedly, there will be howls of horror that such a policy will precipitate a “humanitarian crisis.” Indeed, it will, in all likelihood, cause significant hardship. But such accusations should be countered by the offer of generous relocation grants for any Palestinian, weary of the suffering his leaders have wrought on him and his family, who wishes to seek a better life elsewhere.

Now that would be a truly Zionist “Plan B”, which addresses BOTH Israel’s geographic and demographic imperatives.

Come to think of it, it would even be an appropriate Plan A.

Jerusalem Post

Martin Sherman ( ) is founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies (www.strategic-

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