Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Netanyahu cites secret deal with Bush to justify more settlements.

The rift between the governments of the United States and Israel looked set to intensify yesterday as Netanyahu sought to justify his wish to continue settlement expansion by citing a secret deal between his predecessor and the Bush administration that construction in existing Jewish settlements could continue.

Why am I not remotely surprised that Bush would have been doing sneaky deals which allowed Israel to take actions which are utterly illegal under international law? And how naive is Netanyahu if the thinks that Obama is duty bound to honour secret deals agreed by the man who Obama was elected to succeed under a banner of "change"?

The Israeli government is arguing that Ariel Sharon, with reservations, agreed in 2003 to the internationally endorsed Road Map and the withdrawal of 8,000 settlers from Gaza in 2005, only on condition that Israel could proceed with expansion within the physical boundaries of existing West Bank settlements. A senior Israeli official familiar with the current talks with the US said: "When the government of Israel adopted the Road Map... it was based on understandings reached with the US. It is hard for the US to say we have to keep to our commitments but ignore the understandings."

The argument was being pressed in talks that Israel's Defence Minister Ehud Barak was holding in Washington yesterday and is likely to feature in discussions that the US Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, is expected to have with the Israeli leadership here on Monday. Israeli officials are braced for President Obama to repeat his call for a settlement freeze when he makes his major speech on US relations with the Muslim world in Cairo tomorrow.

Israeli officials also complain that the new team in Washington is making "no distinction" between settlements in the larger blocs that Mr Bush told Mr Sharon in 2004 he expected would be in Israeli territory in any final status deal with the Palestinians, and those elsewhere in the occupied West Bank. Although the Bush administration later "clarified" that borders were a matter for negotiation, Israel swiftly assumed it was entitled to continue building within such blocs.

So, Israel now claims that "understandings" were reached which went utterly against the commitments she made in public. After all, Israel's public commitments issued through the Road Map couldn't have been any clearer.

From the Road Map, phase one:

In Phase I, the Palestinians immediately undertake an unconditional cessation of violence according to the steps outlined below; such action should be accompanied by supportive measures undertaken by Israel. Palestinians and Israelis resume security cooperation based on the Tenet work plan to end violence, terrorism, and incitement through restructured and effective Palestinian security services. Palestinians undertake comprehensive political reform in preparation for statehood, including drafting a Palestinian constitution, and free, fair and open elections upon the basis of those measures. Israel takes all necessary steps to help normalize Palestinian life. Israel withdraws from Palestinian areas occupied from September 28, 2000 and the two sides restore the status quo that existed at that time, as security performance and cooperation progress. Israel also freezes all settlement activity, consistent with the Mitchell report.
The Road Map demanded very little from the Israelis and quite a lot from the Palestinians, indeed, apart from asking that Israel withdraws from "areas occupied from September 28, 2000", which is hardly asking her to return to the 1967 border, the only demand made of Israel under Bush's map is that she "freezes all settlement activity."

Netanyahu is now claiming the Bush and Sharon came to a secret deal so that Sharon did not have to do the one thing that he was agreeing to do under the Road Map.

If anything highlights how biased and pro-Israeli the Bush administration was - and how much a change is needed in the American approach to solving this dispute - it is this. Netanyahu is now claiming that Israel had a deal with Bush not to do the one thing which they publicly agreed to do. So, they had a dozen points which they could demand the Palestinians must achieve or Israel could walk away from the road map - comprehensive political reform, drafting a Palestinian constitution, ensuring free and fair elections in the Occupied Territories - and Israel had only one; stopping all settlement activity, which Netanyahu now claims Israel had a secret deal guaranteeing that she could ignore this.

In other words, Netanyahu is claiming that Israel had a secret deal that the commitment she was giving publicly was, effectively, worthless. It is blatant that Obama need not be tied to any sleazy deals which the Bush administration may have struck, but that's not why Netanyahu is making this claim. Obama has cited Israel's promises made at Annapolis and has stated that he intends to force Israel to honour them. Netanyahu is now claiming that this public promise was a farce agreed between the previous US and Israeli administrations, even whilst they were publicly vowing to adhere to it.

Obama is making it clear that he is not buying this:

There is no sign that President Obama sees himself bound by any such covert oral understandings reached with his predecessor's administration – the status and durability of which has reportedly been challenged with vigour by US officials. Mr Obama told National Public Radio: "I've said very clearly to the Israelis both privately and publicly that a freeze on settlements, including natural growth, is part of those obligations." He added that Palestinians also had parallel obligations to improve security and end incitement.

The senior Israeli official suggested that Mr Netanyahu was ready to reach an agreement with the US precluding settlement-building that would in his view prejudice final status negotiations with the Palestinians, and that this would include not building on E1, the bitterly controversial planned corridor linking Jerusalem to the large settlement of Ma'ale Adumim. The official rejected reports of a secret coalition agreement between Mr Netanyahu and his hard-right Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, to resume E1-building.

So, Netanyahu's idea of meeting someone halfway is to offer to stop only the most "bitterly controversial" settlement building?

Netanyahu really doesn't get this. The kind of sleazy hidden deals - which utterly changed the essence of publicly made pronouncements - is exactly the kind of thing which Obama was elected to change. Obama couldn't be any clearer that all settlement building means all settlement building.

And any deals made with the former administration carry no validity whatsoever.

If anything shows the need for change in the way the US behaves towards the Israelis and the Palestinians, Netanyahu has clearly pointed it out. The US used to be the "honest broker" in this dispute but ended up, as Netanyahu is making clear, as nothing short of an enabler for Israel's illegal settlement building.

Obama was elected as a new broom to sweep away this kind of sleazy back room dealing where people said one thing in public whilst agreeing the utter opposite in private.

Any deal struck with Bush in private, and undermining public promises both Bush and Sharon were making, were an arrangement between those two men and were valid only as long as they both held office.

Israel remains bound by the public promise which she made.

Although, after Netanyahu's claims, I am left wondering why anyone would ever again believe any public promise which either Israel or the US ever make, as apparently if you cross your fingers behind your back whilst making the promise then it really doesn't count.

Netanyahu really is claiming that you can say one thing in public and another, utterly opposite, thing in private and the latter should have validity but not the former. And people wonder why the public are losing faith in politicians?

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Steel Phoenix said...

Due to the fickle nature of the American people, and our constant flux of leadership, nations should consider our agreements to have become understandings, and our understandings to be meaningless when our leadership occilates right and left. We should really start writing 4 year agreements.

Bush broke a lot of our understandings and agreements when he took office. I assume Obama will as well.

Kel said...

Bush broke a lot of our understandings and agreements when he took office. I assume Obama will as well.

I hope so SP, especially when the "understanding" is actually a 180 degree reversal of the publicly stated policy.