[Published 20 March 2016]
Marco Rubio’s withdrawal from the Presidential race this week will not relieve Hillary Clinton from affirming or disavowing the following pledge made by Rubio during his failed campaign:
“I will revive the common-sense understandings reached in the 2004 Bush-Sharon letter and build on them to help ensure Israel has defensible borders,”
The terms of Bush’s letter - dated 14 April 2004 - were overwhelmingly endorsed by the House of Representatives 407-9 on 23 June 2004 and the Senate 95-3 on 24 June 2004.
The letter backed Israel’s unilateral disengagement from Gaza and promised to support Israel’s following positions in negotiations with the Palestinian Authority over the previous 11 years:
1. Israel would not cede its claims to all of the territory captured from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day WarIsrael’s insistence on these conditions had been major stumbling blocks in the PLO rejecting Israel’s offer to withdraw from more than 90% of the West Bank during negotiations brokered by President Bill Clinton in 2000/2001.
2. Millions of Palestinian Arabs would not be resettled in Israel and
3. Israel must be recognised as the state of the Jewish people.
The Bush Congress-endorsed letter had put America squarely in Israel’s corner.
Elliott Abrams — Middle East Affairs point-man at the National Security Council from 2001 to 2009 — had no qualms about the significance of the Bush letter — when stating in July 2009:
“Not only were there agreements, but the prime minister of Israel relied on them in undertaking a wrenching political reorientation — the dissolution of his government, the removal of every single Israeli citizen, settlement and military position in Gaza, and the removal of four small settlements in the West Bank. This was the first time Israel had ever removed settlements outside the context of a peace treaty, and it was a major step”.
President Obama however sought to change the goal posts laid down in the Bush letter with this statement 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.”
Glenn Kessler pointed out at the time:
“Indeed, Israelis and Palestinians have held several intensive negotiations that involved swapping lands along the Arab-Israeli dividing line that existed before the 1967 war - technically known as the Green Line, or the boundaries established by the 1949 Armistice agreements. (Click here for a visual description of the swaps discussed between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in 2008.)
So, in many ways, it is not news that the eventual borders of a Palestinian state would be based on land swaps from the 1967 dividing line. But it makes a difference when the president of the United States says it, particularly in a carefully staged speech at the State Department. This then is not an off-the-cuff remark, but a carefully considered statement of U.S. policy.”
Given the chaos in Syria since Obama’s statement, the birth of Islamic State in 2014 and the continuing unstable political and security situations in Gaza and the West Bank— mutually agreed land swaps as a concept have become just another missed opportunity whose time has expired.
Michael Oren—Israel’s Ambassador to Washington between 2009 and 2013 was moved to make the following call in January 2015:
".. it’s time to revive the Bush-Sharon letter and act according to it.”
Will Clinton so act — if elected America’s 17th Democratic President — to honour a former Republican President’s commitments to one of America’s longstanding allies that go far beyond personal partisan politics?
Her answer is eagerly awaited.