Rick, the Obama administration has gone to great lengths to avoid directly renouncing the Bush-Sharon agreement regarding settlements. Plainly, the Obama team doesn’t want to abide by the terms of that understanding (which allowed for growth within existing settlements), yet they feel obliged not to say so. On one hand, this is curious for an administration that prides itself, indeed defines itself, on being “not George Bush.” But somehow the “turning the page” and “fresh start” lingo doesn’t work so well when it comes to Israel. And it is, after all, poor form to insist Israel keep its agreements while America declines to keep hers.
So the effort to twist and evade has begun. The latest incarnation is to insist the Bush-Sharon agreement was never “implemented” and therefore carries no weight. There are two responses to that.
First, this is not the behavior that has characterized the Israeli-U.S. relationship, at least not recently. We haven’t generally engaged in legalisms and diplomatic fencing with our friend and ally. Quoted in the Washington Times, Elliott Abrams explains, “There were lots of agreements between the U.S. and Israel because there was tremendous trust between the two governments. We did not operate in a context in which anything that was not written down would disappear; we operated in a context of trust and confidence.” The very fact that Hillary Clinton now speaks of “enforceable agreements” bespeaks a Rose Law Firm sharp litigator, not a friend or ally of Israel.
Second, let’s talk about “implemented” and “enforceable.” Again, remember the context: Sharon was being asked to withdraw from Gaza and West Bank settlements and his domestic political standing was tenuous. So the U.S., in an effort to protect Sharon domestically and assist our ally, threw a lifeline — an agreement on settlements to allow growth internally (“up” and “in,” as Abrams has explained it) but “no construction beyond the existing construction line, no expropriation of land for construction, no special economic incentives and no construction of new settlements.”
What happened? Even the Obama spinners acknowledge that Israel (both under Sharon and Olmert) “implemented” the agreement by reducing new settlement growth. Even Ori Nir, a spokesman for Americans for Peace Now, concedes a diminishment in “approval of new settlements, the scope of West Bank land expropriation and subsidies for settlers.” Moreover, after receiving these assurances from the Bush administration in 2004, the Israeli government acted upon them (attorney Clinton can look up “detrimental reliance”) by withdrawing entirely from Gaza and dismantling four West Bank settlements.
So what is to be gleaned from all this? Well, the Obama administration certainly has a new mode of dealing with Israel. And if they want to play lawyer, they should get better legal advice.