Ross: Obama Thought He Had Licence to Openly Criticize Israel
President Barack Obama’s treatment of Israel stemmed from a false understanding that increasing security and intelligence cooperation with Israel allows him to be openly critical of Israel, former Mideast peace envoy Dennis Ross said on Monday.
During a panel on the past, present, and future of U.S.-Israeli relations at the Washington Institute on Monday, Ross drew a distinction between the Bill Clinton approach, whom he also worked for, and the Obama approach in treating Israel as an ally, but getting opposite results.
According to Ross, Clinton was very careful not to be publicly saying things that could be construed as being critical of Israel. “Clinton had a strong feeling that when you had differences with Israel, it was better to keep them private. His perspective was that the U.S. was Israel’s only real friend in the world,” he asserted. “We could have differences and disagreements, but he wanted to keep them private because he felt that if Israel’s enemies would see that as encouragement, and it would weaken Israel’s deterrent.”
Obama had a different perspective, based on a misplaced lesson.
“Because he felt, genuinely, a very strong commitment to Israel’s security, he felt that also gave him the licence to be openly critical,” Ross stated. “He did believe – early on in the administration – that being openly critical could also bring some benefit for us at a time when we are reaching out to the Muslims. That was the kind of mindset. And the instinct was because I’m so good on security towards Israel, and because I really mean it, that makes it easier for me to be able to establish some distance.”
Ross recalled a meeting between the president and Malcolm Hoenlein in July of 2009, in which Obama said, “For eight years, the Bush (43) administration allowed no daylight at all, and we go nothing for it, and look at where we are.”
“When you are asking the Israelis to do something that is difficult for them, they need to know where you’re coming from,” he explained. “When you are perceived as genuinely having Israel’s best interests at heart, and you’re not being driven by concerns where the other side is, then you’re more likely to draw a response. ”
He also noted that Netanyahu’s first government was a narrow right-wing government, whereas during his 2nd term, in 2009, Netanyahu headed a centrist government.
Thomas Donilon, the former national security advisor to President Obama, also participated in the panel.