Palestine – Sharon’s Legacy Haunts Obama And Kerry

Written by David Singer.

President Obama and his Secretary of State John Kerry have a lot on their minds as they grapple with conflicts and political issues involving countries like Syria, Iran, Iraq, Sudan and Afghanistan – which no doubt must be causing massive overloading of their respective memory banks.

Yet this would be a lame excuse for them forgetting about – or seeking to minimise – the existence and crucial importance of the letters exchanged on 14 April 2004 between President Bush and Israel’s then Prime Minister – Ariel Sharon – who died recently after languishing in a coma for seven years

These letters enabled courageous and highly dangerous decisions being taken by Sharon to kick start President Bush’s stalled 2003 Road Map – whose goal had been to end the Jewish-Arab conflict by 2005.

President Bush’s letter provided the catalyst – and the political justification – for Israel unilaterally evacuating the entire Jewish population of 8000 from Gaza and withdrawing Israel’s army totally from there – without any preconditions or undertakings being sought from the Palestinian Authority.

The Presidential letter set out the framework that Bush would support in negotiations between Israel and the PLO – conditions that Obama cannot possibly now discard as Kerry finalises his own framework agreement.

President Bush’s letter clearly – and unambiguously – assured Sharon that;

1.  The borders of any Palestinian Arab State would not encompass the entire West Bank despite successive Arab leaders having demanded this outcome for the previous 37 years,

2.    Jewish towns and villages in the West Bank would be incorporated into the borders of Israel

3.    The Arabs would have to forego their demand to be given the right to allow millions of Arabs to emigrate to Israel and

4.    Israel’s existence as a Jewish State would be non-negotiable

Bush’s commitments to Sharon were approved – almost unanimously – by both the US House of Representatives and the Senate.

It didn’t take too long however for these Congress-endorsed commitments to be downplayed by Bush and his advisors.

In an editorial – published on 14 May 2008 – former Jerusalem Post editor – David Horovitz – revealed the extent of the American resistance to remaining bound by President Bush’s 2004 letter following a meeting with Bush in the White House with a group of Israeli journalists:

“Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, however, has been known to minimise the significance of this four-year-old letter. Just last week, for instance, she told reporters that the 2004 letter “talked about realities at that time. And there are realities for both sides….

Bush’s National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley has also given briefings to the effect that Israel had tried to overstate the importance of a rather vague letter, which was issued at a time when Sharon was seeking to bolster support for the pullout from Gaza.

And in answering my question, Bush did not at first even realise that I was referring to the 2004 letter. Hadley, who was also in the Oval Office, had to prompt him. “Okay, the letters,” the president then said, remembering.”

This was far worse and more sinister than mere memory loss. An attempt was being made – as early as 2008 – to renege on America’s clear and unequivocal commitments given to Israel as the price for Israel’s total evacuation of Gaza.

Israel had already paid a high price relying on Bush’s Congress-endorsed letter.

Gaza had become a de facto terrorist State – with Hamas firmly entrenched as the governing authority.

Israel had – since its evacuation of Gaza in 2005 – been subjected to a sustained barrage of rockets and mortars fired indiscriminately into Israeli population centres from Gaza by a bewildering variety of terrorist groups and sub-groups who would have had no chance of operating so freely from Gaza if the Israeli Army had remained there.

Israel’s Prime Minister – Ehud Olmert – who succeeded Sharon – had neither forgotten nor overlooked the critical significance of President Bush’s letter when agreeing to resume negotiations with the Palestinian Authority in 2007.

At the international conference held in Annapolis in November 2007 to announce a breakthrough in the resumption of those negotiations – Olmert told Bush and the world leaders gathered there that:

“The negotiations will be based on previous agreements between us, U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, the road map and the April 14, 2004 letter of President Bush to the Prime Minister of Israel.”

The subsequent failure of those negotiations can be directly attributed to the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to countenance the Bush commitments made to Sharon.

As Obama gets ready to approve Kerry’s framework agreement – he and Kerry need to have their memory banks updated to remind them of the importance of honouring Bush’s commitments.

Any attempt by Obama and Kerry to resile from or circumvent Bush’s Congress-endorsed commitments to Sharon will torpedo any prospects for success in the current negotiations – leaving Obama and Kerry with no one but themselves to blame for bringing the current negotiations to an ignominious end.

The idea that any American President would not consider himself bound by the written commitments of a former President – as endorsed by Congress – would undermine America’s very democratic foundations.

Disavowing the Bush commitments would prejudice the integrity of American diplomacy world wide – ensuring any political decisions by the current administration would not be worth the paper they are written on.

Sharon has left behind a bitter pill – which Obama and Kerry must reluctantly swallow.

Congress will be there to make sure they do.

Daphne Anson

29 comments

  1. Leon Poddebsky

    The integrity of American diplomacy was compromised a long time ago.
    In 1957 the USA gave Israel “ironclad” guarantees of freedom of navigation in the Straits of Tiran. Ten years later it dishonoured those guarantees and Israel secured freedom of navigation by its own efforts.

    • Israel can only rely on herself.

      • Shirlee

        Your response is the glib one-liner which would no doubt encourage Obama and Kerry to dishonour the Bush Congress-endorsed letter given to Sharon.

        America has made a binding commitment to Israel which can only be withdrawn by the current President and Congress jointly.

        Until that happens – Israel is entitled to demand it be honoured.

        If Israel does not protest loud and long at any attempts by Obama and Kerry to circumvent the letter without such Congress approval – then it only has itself to blame for any consequences that follow.

    • Leon

      It would help if you could identify what you claim were the “ironclad” guarantees given to Israel in 1957 guaranteeing freedom of navigation in the Straits of Tiran

      Are you referring to the following statement made by the Department of State published in the New York Times on 24 June 1957:
      “The United States position is that the Gulf of Aqaba comprehends international
      waters. That no nation has the right to prevent free and innocent passage in the
      Gulf and through the Straits giving access thereto. A denial of those waters to
      vessels of United States registry should be reported to the nearest United States
      diplomatic or consular offices.”

      If so – how did America dishonour those guarantees?

      In any event – are you seeking to equate this position enunciated by the Department of State to a letter signed on 14 April 2004 by an American President to an Israeli Prime Minister – the terms of which were specifically endorsed by the Congress and which led to Israel unilaterally disengaging from Gaza to advance the Bush Roadmap – which itself is supposedly part of the framework under which Israel and the PLO are still negotiating?

      Can Obama and Kerry simply shred these American commitments without Congress approval?

      • Leon Poddebsky

        David
        Firstly, my point is that USA guarantees cannot be relied upon. The only reliable indicator of the likelihood of support is common concrete interests or a perception of the lesser harm to those interests.
        As for the 1957 guarantees, the USA led the principal maritime nations in invoking Article 51of the UN Charter to guarantee Israel’s rights of navigation explicitly during diplomatic exchanges. In 1967 “the world” dishonoured those pledges.

        Now, as for US Administrations’ respect for Congressional resolutions, we have seen for a long time how US Administrations have ridden roughshod over successive Congressional resolutions to locate the US embassy in Jerusalem.

        As for the USA president’s letter to which you refer, Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State, feigned ignorance of that letter, asserting (no doubt with a perfectly straight face) that a search for a such a document in her department’s files had been fruitless.

  2. David and Leon, you may have hit the nail on the head where you say “commitments” and “guarantees” respectively. Neither sound to me as if they are ‘set in concrete’, but in saying that nothing agreed to in that entire region appears to be.

    • Shirlee

      The phrase I used was “binding commitment” and the phrase Leon used was “ironclad guarantees”

      I have no doubt that the Bush letter constitutes a binding commitment.

      I have not disputed Leon’s claim until he identifies the document or documents he is referring to.

      Misquoting what Leon and I have said is misleading.

      Sounds as though you would make a great spokesman for Obama and Kerry if they attempt to wheedle out of the Bush-Congress endorsed binding commitment.

      • Firstly, what you just wrote is very insulting. An apology is in order.

        Secondly I never said you disputed Leon’s anything.

        I am merely saying that “binding commitments” and “ironclad guarantees” don’t necessarily mean a thing, Congress approved or not. ” Congress-endorsed letter given to Sharon”

        It doesn’t seem to that Israel protests loud and long about anything. Israel should be out there doing in a big way, which we and others are doing around the world, and that is putting people straight on facts. Israel’s work in the field of advocacy is rotten.

        • Shirlee

          You have apparently changed your mind and now belatedly state:
          “I am merely saying that “binding commitments” and “ironclad guarantees” don’t necessarily mean a thing Congress approved or not,”

          That may be your world vision – but binding commitments certainly do mean something in the fields of international relations and international diplomacy.

          Prime Ministers and Presidents are always making making binding commitments with other nations – which in democratic countries at least – are honoured and observed by their successors – unless those in Opposition make it clear at the time they do not intend to be bound if they win Government.. That is the way democracies work.

          Sharon took a big gamble in unilaterally disengaging from Gaza – which he only did because of the binding commitment embodied in Bush’s letter – as overwhelmingly affirmed by the Congress.

          That gamble was disastrous and has backfired badly on Israel.

          Israel should now be demanding that America live up to the binding commitments given by Bush and the Congress that enabled Sharon to make that gamble.

          Sorry Shirlee – views like yours that binding commitments Congress approved or not don’t necessarily mean a thing are precisely what Obama and Kerry will find very comforting as they prepare their own framework agreement.

          They can argue – “well the Editor of News and Views from Jews Down Under” finds it perfectly acceptable to shred the Bush letter. She has stated the letter does not mean a thing. What is all the fuss about when we tear it up?”

          I certainly expected better from you and regret that I was wrong in my estimation.

          • Hope this isn’t too much mess from my phone.

            David

            You are more insulting by the moment. There is no need for your rudeness, I am not ‘a certain person on Jwire’ who asks to be put down.
            If international agreements/commitments/treaties/call them what you will, are so binding, what’s happened with those the PA has agreed to? There are no doubt countless more by others. As far s I am aware The US Pres. is pretty much a free agent over many things. I have also been made aware of a few things of late from an inside source which bother me.

            We know what Israel should do and I know we don’t know what goes on behind the scenes, the point is She does not appear to be strong in the International arena when it comes to voicing her opinion or putting out the right message.

  3. David – we are cautioned in the liturgy: “put not your trust in princes.” Add to far worse and sinister: future President of the United States Hillary Clinton: http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3726920,00.html. I find it interesting that Sharon demanded the agreement in writing, i would have loved to be a fly on the wall when that happened. This is one possible scenario that I believe may occur: After the current talks fail, Obama will attempt to force Israel to agree to a solution that Israel rejects and will not commit national suicide. Obama will abandon Israel, the EU is already moving to delegitimize Israel almost every day. REAL sanctions will be placed on the Jewish state. With its very life hanging in the balance, Israel will strike Iran’s nuclear facilities alone.

    • Hi Herb, good to see you here from Facebook!

      I am in agreement with you but I wonder how the American people would react if this were to happen and I wonder what the majority in Congress would do too.

      • Yes i see you on our really good friends at Sussex Friends of Israel. We have no choice but to hope that the situation will improve. G’day mate!

    • Herb

      Sharon was no fool in wanting Bush to sign a letter of commitment and having it endorsed by the Congress before he dared disengage from Gaza.

      Your link to the Clinton claim denying any knowledge of the Bush letter indicates just how right Sharon was.

      Yes – the liturgy advises us to not put our trust in princes.

      Sharon heeded that advice – and thankfully got a letter in writing.

      Israel needs to make sure it is respected and honoured down to the very last word.

  4. There seems to be a glitch in your system that prevents me replying to the latest comments from Leon and yourself.

    The “Reply” button does not appear under the two latest responses.

    Please let me know when it is fixed.

    • Herb emailed me the same thing.I don’t know how to C & P on my phone or i’d post it.
      It just dawned on me. The reply button is only on the first post in the ‘conversation’. Use that and it goes to the end of the line.
      Otherwise used the comment box.
      WordPress has a great many glitches and my web site, which is being funded for me, is with the IT guy now. Had our first conference on Friday.

    • Leon Poddebsky

      David

      It is certainly an ideal that nation-states honour their solemn undertakings, but, unfortunately international relations seem to proceed according to the laws of political Darwinism.
      Look, for example, at the way that the Arabs have been allowed to get away with breaching the Oslo Accords from day one; look at the way that the world breached its own rules about the criteria for recognition of states; look at the way that the world ignores Security Council resolution 242, which recognises that Israel has territorial rights in Judea and Samaria. Look at the way that since 1948 the Arabs have been maintaining an economic boycott of Israel in contravention of international law.
      Look at Tibet; look at Syria. Remember Czechoslovakia.
      The USA was supposed to be South Vietnam’s and Formosa’s “eternal protector.”
      I’m sure all of us know all this, so……

      If Israel can show this “world” that “the world” stands to lose more than it stands to gain from continuing appeasement of the Arabs, Israel will secure its vital interests.

  5. Leon Poddebsky

    David
    What I have said previously does not mean that I disagree with your view about the necessity for Israel vigorously to hold the USA to President Bush’s commitment to Sharon. On the contrary, Israel should bash Obama and Clinton over the head with it. But you know how slimy some politicians can be, and how they can slither out of commitments; Hillary’s denial of the existence of Bush’s letter is a good example.
    In general, my perception of Israel’s diplomacy is that it is rather flaccid, though I don’t know what happens behind the scenes.

    Although the Oslo Accords make no mention of the “settlements”, Israel has allowed the Arabs to shift them to the top of the international agenda.
    If Israel had suspended its compliance with Oslo from the very first breach of it by the Arabs, it might today be in better shape on the international scene.

    • Leon you are being very confusing.

      You can’t bash Obama, Kerrry, Clinton, Condoleeza Rice, Stephen Hadley or Bush himself over their respective heads if you are wielding a feather and not a hammer.

      Either the letter from Bush to Sharon is a binding commitment that Obama is obliged to now honour – or it is not.

      Both you and Shirlee seem to be arguing it is not binding on Obama.

      If that is the correct conclusion – how can anyone then accuse Obama of being slimy and trying to slither out of a commitment – if it is not a commitment?

      You and Shirlee need to focus on this particular letter and not raise red herrings such as Oslo, PLO honouring agreements,Tibet, etc.

      There is a political price to be paid for slimy politicians slithering out of binding commitments – as well as a loss of credibility and trust accruing to the country they represent.

      Sharon did everything possible to ensure America – not just Bush – would support the negotiating positions that were enumerated in the letter. If Sharon thought they would end when Bush went out of office – or even before as Bush tried to do as recounted in my article – Israel would not have disengaged from Gaza as it did.

      It is inconceivable to me that Congress would go back on its 2004 decisions.

      I am not so sure that Obama will honour Bush’s letter.I would be more than delighted to be proved wrong regarding Obama. His decision will mark him as a man prepared to honour the commitments of a former President or a political opportunist who can never be trusted.

      • Leon Poddebsky

        David

        It seems that I have not expressed myself clearly: my position is this: certainly Bush’s commitment should in theory be binding, and Israel should bash Obama et al with it, but let’s not hold our breath waiting for the USA to honour that commitment.

        Why not?
        Because, as I have illustrated with my examples, incl Oslo, international relations are a jungle.

        • Leon

          One needs to focus on this one clearly and unambiguously expressed written agreement endorsed by the Congress that leaves no room or loopholes for twisting and manipulating by Obama or Kerry.

          Sharon was no fool and would not let himself be fooled by Bush giving him a document that could be disavowed by his successors.

          Olmert too understood the importance of that document.

          Hopefully Netanyahu does as well.

          Israel has done very badly out of its disengagement with Gaza in ways no one including Sharon could have reasonably expected to occur.

          All the more reason that this Bush Congress-endorsed commitment be vigorously hammered as Israel contemplates further withdrawals from the West Bank.

          I hope Israel will make it crystal clear to Obama that if he reneges on one word of the Bush letter in the Kerry framework agreement currently being drafted – then Israel will not be prepared to continue pursuing the two-state solution proposed in the Bush Roadmap.

      • David no need to get so hot under the collar, we are all on the same side.
        I am with Leon all the way. The mere fact that Congress agreed with Bush’s letter to Sharon, doesn’t mean it’s a done deal. If it was a formal agreement, then yes.

        Leon says that Clinton denies the existence of Bush’s letter. If the letter existed, and I don’t doubt it did, where is it? Who has it? If no one has a copy, who will believe it exists anyhow?

        I personally do not trust Obama and think he has done the wrong thing by Israel all the way. I’ve had this discussion with Ron Weiser, who publicly at least believes Obama has been good for Israel. How he comes to that is beyond me?

        I said earlier that I find Israel to be lax about so many things. Everything goes in the ‘too hard basket’.
        Isn’t the trouble Ari is having in the Negev with the Bedouin a classic example of that David?

        • Shirlee

          You want to see a copy of Bush’s letter?

          Here is a link:
          http://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2004/04/20040414-3.html

          You want to see what Congress did?
          Here is a link:
          https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/US-Israel/hconres460.html

          Leon never said Clinton denied the existence of Bush’s letter.

          Herb kindly provided the link to Clinton’s pathetic attempt to cover up the letter’s existence – another in a list of high profile politicians and bureaucrats who – like you now – were attempting to play down the binding commitments contained in Bush’s letter – including the author himself.

          Do you believe Olmert was referring to a non-existent letter when he specifically referred to it in Annapolis in front of a whole array of international dignitaries including Abbas and 11 representatives from Arab countries as well as the Arab League?

          In case you have any doubts as to the existence of the guest list – here is the link
          https://www.procon.org/files/AnnapolisConferenceParticipants.pdf

          Really Shirlee you are being quite exasperating – and very stubborn in still failing to recognise the crucial importance of this letter as Kerry prepares to present his own letter to Israel and the PLO on advancing the current negotiations.

          I repeat – if Kerry’s letter departs by one word from Bush’s letter – Israel has the right to tell Obama that all negotiations for the two state solution proposed by the Bush Road Map are dead and buried.

          Israel paid a high price in 2004 for keeping the Roadmap alive. It would be perfectly justified in bringing it to a dead end in 2014 – if Obama seeks to renege on Bush’s commitments to Sharon.

          It would have been nice for you to have said you are with me all the way. Guess that is too much to expect.

          Sitting on the fence halfway with Leon is just that – nisht ahin un nisht aher.

          If you don’t know what this means I suggest you google it yourself. I have done enough research for you in this post already.

          • Once again apart from being extremely rude David, you clearly haven’t read what I have written.

            NEVER Once have I said I didn’t believe a letter existed. In fact – quote I said

            “If the letter existed, and I don’t doubt it did, where is it? Who has it? If no one has a copy, who will believe it exists anyhow?”

            I did miss “Hillary’s denial of the existence of Bush’s letter is a good example.” I apologise for that. I was out and reading in hurry, as per my norm as I am always short on time.

            David I never once said I didn’t realise the importance of a letter either. What I am saying is that there is nothing there to make him adhere to it, the same as the PLO etc., totally ignoring all the treaties/accords they have signed.

          • You keep missing the point Shirlee.

            If Obama refuses to accept the terms of the Bush letter then Israel is perfectly entitled to tell America that it no longer considers itself bound to continue any further negotiations under the Bush Roadmap.

            Breaching a binding commitment entitles the other party to call the deal off.

            The Roadmap was dead and buried in 2004 – had Sharon not thrown Bush a lifeline to keep it open by unilaterally disengaging from Gaza.

            The idea of the “two state solution” proposed by Bush in his Roadmap to create a second Arab state in former Palestine (in addition to Jordan) for the first time ever in recorded history would have been consigned to the garbage bin.

            Might I remind you that so far as I am aware the current negotiations are still being conducted by Israel and the PLO in conformity with what Olmert told the Annapolis Conference:

            “The negotiations will be based on previous agreements between us, U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, the road map and the April 14, 2004 letter of President Bush to the Prime Minister of Israel.”

            Since Abbas was standing there and never indicated his disagreement then I believe I am right in making this assertion.

            If anyone has a contrary view – I would be pleased to hear from them.

            BTW – I never said you didn’t believe the letter existed. Don’t attribute words to me I never said. You obviously had never read the letter or you would not have asked the questions you did.

            Yet you have been commenting on its importance and relevance.

            Can we now just concentrate and focus on the Bush letter and its significance in influencing what will be contained in Kerry’s letter which is expected to be released within the next few days.

          • Leon Poddebsky

            David

            None of my comments can in any way be construed as my “sitting on the fence.”
            On the contrary, I have said at least twice that Israel should bash Obama and his folks over the head WITH THE LETTER. HOWEVER, I have also said that I do not trust this Administration to honour its country’s commitments. Do you? How many Americans do?

            Israel would do well to circulate the letter to every government and to the UN (ha ha re UN), and to raise THIS to the top of the agenda, not “settlements”, which are an Arab distraction from the real problem, viz., their refusal to accept that Jews have human rights.

            As a matter of fact I stated in one of my posts that Israel should have declared that it was no longer bound by Oslo as soon as the Arabs breached it almost on day one.

  6. I’m not expert on this, but it would seem obvious that the 2004 peace talks in which Israel withdrew from Gaza, only to be ‘rewarded’ with terror attacks, failed and so all the surrounding documentation is effectively dead in the water.

    Kerry’s latest round of peace talks is not a continuation, but a fresh attempt (doomed to failure, as the Arab side refuses to compromise on its rejectionist attitude) to broker peace.

    • Pam

      With respect might I point out:

      1. There were no peace talks in 2004.concerning Israel’s disengagement from Gaza
      2. Israel’s disengagement was unilateral and the PLO did not give any undertakings in return.
      3. The letter Bush gave to Sharon to procure Israel’s disengagement is not effectively dead in the water – but is alive and kicking today – as is Congress’s edorsement.

      If you are right and Kerry is making a fresh attempt to broker peace – meaning that the two-state solution proposed under the Roadmap is dead – what is the framework in which the current negotiations are being conducted?

      Both Oslo and the Roadmap were frameworks under which Israel and the PLO agreed to negotiate.

      You can’t play a proper game of soccer on an unmarked field. Similarly negotiations can only take place within an agreed framework.

      So far as I am aware – Kerry’s letter is only going to identify the issues that have arisen under the negotiations to date following Annapolis in 2007 and how America thinks they should be resolved.

      Judgement must await our seeing the contents of Kerry’s letter.