[Published 23 May 2011]
President Obama in an address to the AIPAC Policy Conference on 22 May has failed to redress the enormous damage done by him to America’s integrity and reputation during his speech three days earlier at the State Department.
Addressing the State Department Obama then stated:
“We believe 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.. “
This statement amounted to the repudiation of an American written commitment given by President George Bush (the Bush Letter) to Israel’s then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on 14 April 2004 which stated:
“As part of a final peace settlement, Israel must have secure and recognized borders, which should emerge from negotiations between the parties in accordance with UNSC Resolutions 242 and 338. In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion. It is realistic to expect that any final status agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities.”
America’s commitment in the Bush Letter was clear and unambiguous.
1. America would support Israel’s refusal to withdraw from 100% of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem - as the Arabs had been demanding since 1967
2. The amount of such land to be retained by Israel would be determined by mutually agreed changes that reflected the realities existing at the time negotiations were completed
No mention was made that those mutually agreed changes would require Israel to make land swaps of Israeli sovereign territory in exchange for land retained by Israel in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.
The importance of these American commitments to Israel was stressed in a speech given in the Knesset by Prime Minister Sharon on 22 April 2004 when he stated:
“The political support we received during my visit to the United States is an unprecedented accomplishment for Israel. Since the establishment of the State, we have not received such vast and staunch political support, as was expressed in the President’s letter.”
President Bush’s letter was subsequently approved by the US Senate and House of Representatives on 23 June and 24 June 2004.
Obama’s apparent attempt to abrogate this American commitment in his statement on 19 May resulted in trenchant criticism from Israel and many members of the American Congress forcing him to clarify his position on 22 May.
In doing so President Obama did not climb out of the diplomatic hole he had dug for himself and America three days earlier - but only managed to slide further down it taking America’s integrity and reputation even lower with him.
President Obama told the AIPAC delegates and many Congressmen present and keen to hear his explanation:
“And it was my reference to the 1967 lines—with mutually agreed swaps—that received the lion’s share of the attention, including just now. And since my position has been misrepresented several times, let me reaffirm what “1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps” means. By definition,it means that the parties themselves—Israelis and Palestinians—will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967. That’s what mutually agreed- upon swaps means. It is a well-known formula to all who have worked on this issue for a generation. It allows the parties themselves to account for the changes that have taken place over the last 44 years. It allows the parties themselves to take account of those changes, including the new demographic realities on the ground, and the needs of both sides. The ultimate goal is two states for two people: Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people and the State of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people—each state in joined self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace”
With the greatest respect the President is talking utter nonsense.
“Agreed upon swaps” surely means an agreed exchange of something for something else.
President Obama clearly was breaching the Bush Letter in stating that his Government’s belief:
”now was that Israeli sovereign territory would have to be swapped for territory retained by Israel in the West Bank or East Jerusalem.
President Obama’s belief in 2011 is totally irrelevant. President Obama is committed in 2011 to supporting whatever decision Israel makes on how much of the West Bank and East Jerusalem it will ultimately withdraw from - nothing more nothing less.
To continue to support the concept of
“mutually agreed swaps”only makes matters even worse so far as restoring America’s integrity and reputation is concerned.
It is clear President Obama does not like the terms of the Bush Letter. But he - and America - are bound by it if America’s integrity and reputation is to be maintained.
Obama’s explanation smacks of a pathetic attempt to try and retrospectively substitute the words:
“mutually agreed changes” in the Bush Letter with the words “mutually agreed exchanges”.
Surely Congress will react with even greater fury at President Obama’s latest remarks to try and massage the meaning of the Bush Letter to give it a meaning that was never intended.
Israel made a historic - and highly controversial - political decision to unilaterally withdraw from Gaza as a condition of obtaining the Bush Letter. Israel paid dearly for that decision when tens of thousands of its civilian population were subsequently murdered, wounded or traumatized following that disengagement.
It is inconceivable that America should seek in any way to diminish or circumvent the commitments it made under the Bush Letter.
Words have meaning and in this case their meaning brooks only one interpretation.
Obama’s attempt to subvert their meaning must be resisted until he recants and states without qualification or ambiguity that he - as America’s President - and America still stands by what President Bush signed and its Congress ratified.