Former Israeli Envoy to U.S. Michael Oren Joins Kahlon's New Party

American-born Oren, who served as envoy to Washington under Netanyahu, says he can't stand by when Israel is under diplomatic attack.

Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior
Michael Oren at a 2012 meeting.
Michael Oren at a 2012 meeting.Credit: Bloomberg
Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior

Former Israeli ambassador to the United States Michael Oren has officially joined the recently launched political party Kulanu, headed by former Likud lawmaker and minister Moshe Kahlon.

Kahlon presented Oren as the first candidate on his party's list at a press conference on Wednesday.

Oren, the American-born Israeli who served as envoy to Washington under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, will formulate the party's diplomatic track.

"Today I stand here to take responsibility," Oren said. "In my view, Israel is in the midst of a raging international battle. We must navigate, responsibly and bravely, the dangers and threats to reach our purpose, which is a strong, prosperous Jewish democratic state that is valued around the world. Israel is at a critical juncture. I cannot look on from the sidelines and not do anything when we find ourselves under diplomatic attack.... We must take our fate in our hands."

Kahlon and Oren did not mention Netanyahu by name, but the criticism of his policies was implicit.

"I understand how critical our relationship with the United States is" said Oren. "It has enormous, almost existential, significance for us and we cannot lose that. There is no replacement for the U.S. as Israel's most important ally. The U.S. is not just the source of aid for our security,such as Iron Dome, the U.S. is our partner when it comes to democratic principles and the willingness to protect our freedom. Today, more than ever, it is clear to everyone that Israel-U.S. relations are the foundation of any economic, security and diplomatic approach. It is our responsibility to strengthen those ties immediately."

Oren announced his resignation as ambassador in July 2013. As a historian, he has written extensively on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and on Zionism, and is expected to boost Kahlon's diplomatic credibility.

Oren made headlines early this year when he argued for a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank.

In an obituary on Ariel Sharon that he published on CNN, Oren wrote, "Today, as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pursues a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, Sharon’s approach is once again being discussed. A growing number Israelis are asking, 'What happens if the process fails?'

"One solution could be a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian population centers in the West Bank. As in the disengagement from Gaza, the United States would endorse this move, but unlike in Gaza, most Israeli settlements would remain within Israel, and Israeli troops would still patrol strategic borders. Of course, the preferable solution is two states for two peoples. But if that proves unattainable, then Israel can still end the occupation of the Palestinians, preserve its security, and perhaps lay new foundations for peace."

Kahlon last week attacked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's handling of Israeli diplomacy. "This diplomatic siege isn't doing us any good," he told a crwod at a Tel Aviv bar.

"I am a former member of the Likud, a real Likud that knows how to achieve peace, that knows how to give up land. A conservative and responsible Likud. My worldview is that of the real Likud, which came and protected the land of Israel. When the time came to make peace with the greatest of Arab nations it did so, and when it was time to talk it talked. I and my friends will not miss an opportunity to make peace. I think that something needs to be done for that," he said.

Kahlon gained popularity after reforming Israel's cellular phone market, lowering prices for consumers.

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