Friday, July 17, 2009

Israeli Settlements: Olmert vs. Obama

Back in June, in response to White House denial of a US-Israel understanding on the settlements, Elliot Abrams (former member of the National Security Council under President Bush) wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal: Hillary Is Wrong About the Settlements--The U.S. and Israel reached a clear understanding about natural growth.

Now former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has entered the fray:

The settlements are a known issue of contention between Israel and the United States; although America has not supported their construction, it has, on some occasions, recognized the realities that have developed over 40 years.

Sharon reached understandings with the U.S. administration regarding the growth and building of settlements, as part of the road map. The understandings included that:

-- No new settlements would be constructed.

-- No new land would be allocated or confiscated for settlement construction.

-- Any construction in the settlements would be within current building lines.

-- There would be no provision of economic incentives promoting settlement growth.

-- The unauthorized outposts built after March 2001 would be dismantled (a commitment that Israel, regrettably, has not yet fulfilled).

These understandings provided a working platform and, in my opinion, a proper balance to allow essential elements of stability and normality for Israelis living in settlements until their future would be determined in a permanent-status agreement. I adopted these understandings and followed them in close coordination with the Bush administration.

Moreover, during the run-up to Annapolis and in meetings there, I elaborated to the U.S. administration and the Palestinian leadership that Israel would continue to build in the settlements in accordance with the above criteria.

Let me be clear: Without those understandings, the Annapolis process would not have taken on any form. Therefore, the focus on settlement construction now is not useful.

The insistence now on a complete freeze on settlement construction -- impossible to completely enforce -- will not promote Palestinian efforts to enhance security measures; the institution building that is so crucial for the development of a Palestinian state; better movement and access to the Palestinians; nor an improved economy in the West Bank. Nor will it weaken the Hamas government in Gaza. It will not bring greater security to Israel, help improve Israel's relations with the Arab world, strengthen a coalition of moderate Arab states or shift the strategic balance in the Middle East.

Read the whole thing.

Jennifer Rubin writes that Olmerts column adds to the growing perception that the White House position on the US-Israel agreements on the settlements is not only inaccurate, but not completely honest either:

Olmert has in essence called out the Obama administration for reneging on U.S. commitments and misrepresenting recent history in order to pursue its misguided and wholly unproductive focus on the settlements. We now have both sides of the relevant history corroborating the applicable understandings and making clear that were it not for the U.S. assurances, Israel would not have proceeded with discussions (however unproductive) at Annapolis. And by bringing up the latest instance of Israeli peace gestures, Olmert strikes at the heart of Obama’s fractured history — the false premise that settlements, rather than Palestinian violence and rejectionism, are the main impediment to lasting peace.

The Obama administration took a gamble — banking that they could recast history to suit their ends. But now their version of history, one-sided and false, has been revealed. They have sacrificed credibility and the trust of our one true ally. And for what? They have simply encouraged the very same rejectionism that is at the root of the stalemate.

Obama has been criticized for being less than honest about his own personal campaign promises. The issue has now expanded to include international agreements that the US has in place with foreign countries, and the reaction of the Obama administration denying that promises and agreements were made in the first place is not going to be reassuring to our allies.

Obama should keep in mind that the foundation of any peace agreement is the trust between the parties--and that has to include trust in the peace broker, who is likely to end up making promises that will be intended to assuage doubts between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs.

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