Bibi’s Alumni Running Against Him

The 2015 Israeli election is looking like a Netanyahu alumni reunion except that these former alums are all running against the prime minister in hope of denying him a fourth term.

The latest to enlist is his previous ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren, who just joined the new Kulanu Party as its first candidate and its foreign policy maven.  Kulanu was just organized last month by Moshe Kahlon, who has been vague about his platform. Kahlon was Netanyahu's minister of communications and won fame by reforming the cellular phone industry and dramatically lowering rates for consumers.

Leaders of the two biggest parties on the right, Naftali Bennett of Jewish Home and Avigdor Lieberman of Yisrael Beiteinu, formerly served as chief of staff to Netanyahu and broke with him.

The decision of Oren, the American-born scholar and former diplomat, to forsake the man who made him ambassador and go with a rival is a no-confidence vote by the respected historian.

In what appeared to be a subtle slap at his former boss, Oren emphasized the importance of maintaining good relations with the United States and the need to repair strains that have occurred over the past few years.

"I understand how critical our relationship with the United States is. 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."

Kahlon expressed similar thoughts.  He spoke of the "real Likud" he came from as different from Netanyahu's,  "A real Likud that knows how to achieve peace, that knows how to give up land."

He has been critical the conduct of Israeli diplomacy under Netanyahu, who has strained relations with many world leaders.  "This diplomatic siege isn't doing us any good…. I and my friends will not miss an opportunity to make peace. I think that something needs to be done for that," he said.

Oren has suggested that he prefers the two state solution but if that fails Israel should consider taking unilateral action:

"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."

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.