President Bush and Condoleezza Rice have a lot on their minds as they grapple with a multitude of the world’s current conflicts which - no doubt - have caused 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 between President Bush and Israel’s then Prime Minister - Ariel Sharon - on 14 April 2004 and a subsequent letter sent by Sharon’s Chief of Staff - Dov Weinglass - to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on 18 April, 2004.
This correspondence resulted in courageous and highly dangerous decisions being taken by Israel to kick start President Bush’s stalled 2003 Road Map - envisioned by him as the key to resolving the Israeli-Arab conflict by 2005.
The President’s letter provided the catalyst - and the political justification - for Israel unilaterally evacuating the entire Jewish population of 8,000 from Gaza and withdrawing Israel’s army totally from there without any preconditions or undertakings from Gaza’s highly hostile Arab population..
The Presidential letter also set out the framework that President Bush would support as Israel attempted to progress the Road Map that would create a new Arab State between Israel and Jordan.
President Bush’s letter clearly - and unambiguously - stated that;
1. The borders of the new 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 emigrate to Israel and
4. Israel’s existence as a Jewish State would be assured
Jerusalem Post Editor David Horovitz joined a group of Israeli journalists who met with President Bush in the Oval Office last week prior to the President’s visit to Israel to take part in its 60th Anniversary celebrations. In his editorial - published on 14 May 2008 - Mr Horovitz revealed the extent of the American loss of memory concerning the President’s 2004 letter in the following terms:
“Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, however, has been known to minimize 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 has 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 realize 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 is not simply memory loss but something far worse and more sinister.
In their apparent desperation to do any deal before losing the reins of power in eight months time, the President and his Secretary of State are treading on extremely dangerous ground in giving out signals that they are possibly prepared to renege on their solemn undertakings to Israel.
Israel has already paid a high price in relying on the President’s letter.
Gaza has been turned into a de facto terrorist Palestinian State. Israel has had to sustain a never ending 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 becoming so firmly entrenched in Gaza if the Israeli Army had remained there.
The latest shelling of a shopping mall in Ashkelon using an Iranian Katyusha rocket fired from Gaza signifies a highly dangerous escalation of the conflict. It also indicates the ease with which such sophisticated weaponry can be smuggled into Gaza through the Philadelphi corridor under the noses of the Egyptians despite Condoleezza Rice’s assurances to the Israelis that this would not occur.
Israel needs to make it perfectly clear to President Bush and his Secretary of State that any attempt to resile from the President’s letter will lead to the immediate termination of all further negotiations - that the President then will have no one but himself to blame for bringing his own vision to an ignominious end.
Israel’s Prime Minister - Ehud Olmert - has not forgotten - or overlooked - the critical significance of the President’s letter in any ongoing negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
President Bush and Ms Rice were quick to claim credit at the international conference held in Annapolis last November for a breakthrough in the resumption of those negotiations that would see the three clearly defined stages of the Road Map now being dealt with simultaneously rather than stage by stage.
Maybe the President and Madam Secretary were so overcome by their apparent success that they failed to hear - or perhaps hoped everyone might overlook - what Prime Minister Olmert told the gathered world leaders about the course of those future negotiations:
“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.”
Jews have accumulated many memories - both pleasant and unpleasant - since losing their State, being expelled from there 2000 years ago and being dispersed to all corners of the globe. The Jews steeled themselves to ensure they never forgot who they were, where they came from and to where they would one day return.
Strength comes from remembering - not forgetting.
The President and his Secretary of State would do well to remember - and heed - this lesson as the State of Israel remembers the 60th Anniversary of its reconstitution on and in its ancient biblical homeland.