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Oren, Abrams, and Ross Address AIPAC: What Should U.S. Foreign Policy Be?

The opening foreign policy session of AIPAC featured the three major foreign-policy analysts working on the Middle East crisis: Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S. and well-known historian Michael Oren, followed by the former Obama advisor Dennis Ross, and then Bush administration Middle East advisor Elliott Abrams (who is now at the Council on Foreign Relations).

What is most notable about their three presentations, in our estimate, is their essential agreement on where our country stands, and what must be done in the future. That Ross comes from advising a Democrat president and Abrams a Republican one makes little difference when it comes to what they say needs to be accomplished.

In Ambassador Oren’s Q and A with moderator Frank Sesno, he made the following points. The forthcoming trip by President Obama, he said, is important because it will be a message to the world that the United States stands behind Israel. As ambassador, of course, Oren is first and foremost a diplomat---who represents his government. That means he has to be circumspect. He is not expressing his personal opinion, but framing what in effect is a message from the prime minister he serves. 

Hence Oren stressed that when Netanyahu put Likud on record as favoring a two-state solution of a Palestinian state standing in peace next to Israel, it was a game changer, proving that Israel is taking steps to peace. Now, he said, the Palestinians have to show that they too will take the very same steps 

On the issue of Syria, Oren said that “Israel will not remain silent.” Assad must be forced to leave.  Calling Assad “reckless and unpredictable,” Oren stressed that his departure will also be a major blow to Iran, which is arming his forces.

Turning to Iran, Oren said the Iranian regime must be told it will not be permitted to go nuclear, and  that all options must be on the table. Iran, he stressed, has engaged in diplomacy that has not worked, and is moving ahead to full attainment of a nuclear arsenal. The question, then, is when will it be too late to prevent them, and the issue is the price of inaction.

Concluding his remarks, Ambassador Oren stressed the importance of maintaining U.S. administrative and congressional support for the state of Israel. Given what he called the “Jihadist view of the world” held by the mullahs of Iran, Oren presented in effect a skepticism about the possibility of getting Iran to negotiate seriously. As to his own state and the Palestinian issue, Oren argued that Hamas cannot be negotiated with unless it recognizes Israel, and that Abbas of the PA must be told that he cannot put into place a reconciliation with Hamas, which would permanently make a peace process forever impossible. That, he said, would be a “game changer.” 

Next came a dialogue between Elliott Abrams and Dennis Ross. What is most interesting is the essential similar analysis each presented. Abrams began by saying that the president’s forthcoming trip was a good sign, and meant he faced a challenge telling the Israeli public that he understands them and the challenges they face. Ross added that it could be a new beginning for both Obama and PM Netanyahu, presenting a chance to establish a new connection for the president with the Israeli people.