The Republican Party’s stunning victory in the American mid-term elections offers real hope that President Obama will now be held to honouring the written commitments made to Israel by President George W Bush in his exchange of letters with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on 12 April 2004 – as overwhelmingly endorsed by the House of Representatives 407-9 on 23 June 2004 and the Senate 95-3 the next day.
Those commitments were made in support of Israel’s decision to unilaterally disengage from Gaza – which Israel duly honoured in 2005 – when the Israeli Army and 8000 Israeli civilians left Gaza – many after living there for almost forty years.
That withdrawal brought Hamas to power in Gaza’s one and only election – which has since seen three wars, thousands of deaths and casualties, property destruction running into billions of dollars and 11000 rockets being indiscriminately fired into Israeli civilian population centres.
Bush’s Congress-endorsed commitments assured Israel that the United States:Would do its utmost to prevent any attempt by anyone to impose any other plan other than the Roadmap envisioned by President Bush on 24 June 2002.Reiterated America’s steadfast commitment to Israel’s security, including secure, defensible borders,Was strongly committed to Israel’s security and well-being as a Jewish state.
- Understood that an agreed, just, fair and realistic framework for a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue as part of any final status agreement would need to be found through the establishment of a Palestinian state, and the settling of Palestinian refugees there, rather than in Israel.
- Accepted as part of a final peace settlement that Israel must have secure and recognized borders, which should emerge from negotiations between the parties in accordance with UNSC Resolutions 242 and 338.
- Acknowledged that in light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it would be unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations would be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, that all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution had reached the same conclusion
President Obama and his administration sought to circumvent these clearly stated American pledges – thereby encouraging continuing Arab rejectionism of Israeli peace overtures whilst souring the American–Israeli longstanding relationship.
Obama’s Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reportedly took the first steps to repudiate these commitments on 6 June 2009:
“Since coming to office in January, President Barack Obama has repeatedly called on Israel to halt all settlement activity in Palestinian areas, a demand rejected by the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Israelis say they received commitments from the previous US administration of President George W. Bush permitting some growth in existing settlements.
They say the US position was laid out in a 2004 letter from Bush to then Israeli premier Ariel Sharon.
Clinton rejected that claim, saying any such US stance was informal and “did not become part of the official position of the United States government.”
Clinton – doubling as Obama’s attack dog – made Obama’s intentions clear – when she stated on 25 November 2009
“We believe that through good-faith negotiations the parties can mutually agree on an outcome which ends the conflict and reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps, and the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israeli security requirements.”
This blatant disregard for Bush’s written commitments – which had never mentioned land swaps – signalled trouble for Israel – if Obama ever confirmed Clinton’s statements.
Eighteen months later Israel’s worst fears were realised when President Obama declared on 19 May 2011:
“The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.”
Israel’s curt response came the same day:
Mr. Netanyahu said in a pointed statement just before boarding a plane to Washington that while he appreciated Mr. Obama’s commitment to peace, he “expects to hear a reaffirmation from President Obama of American commitments made to Israel in 2004 which were overwhelmingly supported by both Houses of Congress.”
Prior to Obama’s statement U.S. presidents generally had steered clear of saying any negotiations should start on the 1967 lines.
“It is clear, however, that a return to the situation of 4 June 1967 will not bring peace. There must be secure and there must be recognized borders.”
— President Lyndon Johnson, September 1968
“In the pre-1967 borders, Israel was barely ten miles wide at its narrowest point. The bulk of Israel’s population lived within artillery range of hostile armies. I am not about to ask Israel to live that way again.”
— President Ronald Reagan, September 1, 1982
“Israel will never negotiate from or return to the 1967 borders.”
— Secretary of State George Shultz, September 1988
These Presidential statements were reiterating the personally expressed policy positions of those Presidents.
Bush’s commitments – so overwhelmingly endorsed by the Congress – are in an entirely different league.
With the Republicans now firmly back in control of both Houses – the President and Congress need to assure Israel – and indeed every other nation – that commitments jointly made by an American President and endorsed by an American Congress cannot be unilaterally revoked.
America’s honour and credibility – and any hope of ending the Jewish-Arab conflict – demand this happens very soon.
David Singer is a Sydney Lawyer and Foundation Member of the International Analysts Network.