Michael Oren, Ambassador, Or, This Is How the Occupation Ends

Oren's position on a unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank may be more prophecy than advocacy.

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I was reading an Etgar Keret book of gently hallucinatory short stories when I got the news. It fit right in.

The Foreign Minister, who was now Avigdor Lieberman - himself nothing if not an Etgar Keret invention - had approved the choice of Michael Oren as Israel's next ambassador to Washington.

Michael Oren is a singular, spellbinding historian. His authoritative accounts of the 1967 war and on U.S. relations with the Mideast are second to none. He is persuasive, credible and fluent when pressing Israel's case on world television. He is as original in thought as he is courageous in argument.

Which is why the most oft-quoted of his recent statements deserves a close second look.

"I may be the last of the standing unilateralists," he was reported to have said at the end of a March lecture in Georgetown University.

"The only thing that can save Israel as a Jewish state is by unilaterally withdrawing our settlements from the West Bank," and waiting for a new Palestinian leadership.

Years from now, we may come to realize that Oren's position on a unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank was more prophecy than advocacy.

In a region where the only workable solutions have something to outrage and ultimately disappoint everyone involved, the unilateral withdrawal has this much going for it: No one wants it.

Inevitably, at home, the statement has been criticized from both right and left. The Qassams that followed the unilateral pullout from Gaza were enough to persuade a majority of Israelis to agree with hardliners and rule out a parallel withdrawal in the West Bank. Committed doves, meanwhile, have often cited the Qassams as proof that if Israel is to relinquish territory, it must do so exclusively in the context of a peace agreement with the Palestinian Authority.

Unilateralism also ill-serves the Obama administration, the PA, and even radical Islamists, the first two because of its skirting the two-state issue, the last because, paradoxically, it could actually strengthen the Jewish state.

"I have one ideology: I'm a Zionist," the influential New York Jewish Week last week quoted Oren as saying. "I believe in the existence of an independent, sovereign, strong and secure Jewish state. A state that is closely allied with the U.S."

The fact remains, that even though the Gaza pullout - coupled with wrong-headed Bush administration pressure for Gazan elections - brought Hamas to power, there has been no serious Israeli call, even from hardliners, for a return to the Strip and permanent re-occupation.

It was right to leave Gaza. We were wrong to mistreat and fail to provide for the settlers, we were wrong to leave Israelis along the border vulnerable to rocket attacks, we were wrong to fail to counter those attacks with fiercely intelligent military strikes with minimal civilian casualties, we were wrong to fail to follow rocket attacks with a mammoth world diplomatic offensive and an international observer force, we were wrong to fail to aid the Gazans by helping foster employment and enlisting the Saudis and others to provide investment and foster education, health care, and jobs, we were wrong to allow the Bush administration to pressure for ill-fated elections - but we were right to leave.

In the end, there may be no way to leave the West Bank, other than to make the decision ourselves and leave.

It was right to end the occupation of Gaza, which sapped and harmed and weakened and corrupted Israel.

And when the time comes, as Michael Oren has been brave and sage enough to suggest, we'll be right to help the settlers go and leave the West Bank as well.

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