[Published 2 February 2015]
The furore engendered by House Speaker John Boehner inviting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress on March 3 — supposedly in breach of Presidential protocol - marks the first step in Congress flexing its muscles to persuade President Obama to re-think his concerted attempts to undermine the written commitments made by President Bush to Israel’s then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in his letter dated 14 April 2004 - as overwhelmingly endorsed by the House of Representatives 407-9 on 23 June 2004 and the Senate 95-3 the next day (“American Written Commitments”)
Those 2004 American Written Commitments to Israel have become even more critical in 2015 — as a completely changed political environment sees America:
1. leading negotiations with Iran on curbing Iran’s nuclear programThese American Written Commitments were made to support Sharon’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.
2. heading a coalition of 62 States seeking to degrade and destroy Islamic State
3. forming part of the London 11 countries backing the unsuccessful bid to oust Assad from power in Syria
4. witnessing the shredding of the 2003 Bush Roadmap calling for the creation of a second Arab State in former Palestine — in addition to Jordan - as PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas chooses instead to travel the road leading to the United Nations and the International Criminal Court.
Israel’s disengagement 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.
Those American Written Commitments assured Israel that the United States:
1. 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.President Obama and his administration have sought to circumvent these American Written Commitments — thereby encouraging continuing Arab rejectionism of Israeli peace overtures whilst souring the American—Israeli longstanding relationship.
2. Reiterated America’s steadfast commitment to Israel’s security, including secure, defensible borders,
3. Was strongly committed to Israel’s security and well-being as a Jewish state.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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
Obama’s Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reportedly took the first steps to repudiate these American Written 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.Clinton made Obama’s intentions clear — when she stated on 25 November 2009
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.”
“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 the American 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.”
These American Written Commitments cannot be unilaterally revoked or varied — if America is to retain any international credibility for honouring agreements it makes with other States.
Israel — and Israel alone — must determine where its secure, recognized and defensible borders are to be located under these American Written Commitments.
Obama will hopefully get this unequivocal message when Congress welcomes Netanyahu to address it — protocol or no protocol.