[Published 15 February 2017]
President Trump and Republican and Democratic Congressional leaders this week have the last opportunity to resuscitate the two-state solution laid out in President Bush’s 2003 Roadmap adopted by the Quartet — America, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations (“Bush-Quartet Roadmap”).
This can only happen if President Trump and the Congress re-affirm the commitments made to Israel by President Bush in his letter to Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon dated 14 April 2004 — as overwhelmingly endorsed by the House 407-9 and the Senate 95-3 (“Bush-Congress Commitments”).
Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu reportedly sees this outcome flowing from his White House visit on 15 February:
“Trump believes in a deal and in running peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians,” the prime minister was quoted as saying. “We should be careful and not do things that will cause everything to break down. We mustn’t get into a confrontation with him.”
The last six years have seen those negotiations teeter on the brink of total collapse because the framework for such negotiations - the Bush-Quartet Roadmap and the Bush-Congress commitments — has been successively trashed by President Obama, the European Union and the United Nations.
President Obama’s failure to honour the Bush-Congress commitments first emerged on 19 May 2011 - when he 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.”
Obama’s statement put him on a collision course with America’s position as laid out in the Bush-Quartet Roadmap and the Bush-Congress Commitments.
Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had declared before an international meeting of world leaders called by President Bush in Annapolis on 27 November 2007 — including Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas - that negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority would resume on the basis of UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, the Bush-Quartet Roadmap and the Bush-Congress Commitments.
Land swaps from Israel’s sovereign territory for any territory Israel retained in Judea and Samaria (West Bank) was never mentioned or contemplated in the Bush-Congress Commitments or indeed the Bush-Quartet Roadmap.
Certainly Israel might decide to make land swaps if deemed to be in Israel’s national interest — but that was for Israel to decide — not for Obama or Bush to influence or impose.
Obama appeared to flip flop during his speech on 21 March 2013 at the Jerusalem International Convention Centre:
“I know Israel has taken risks for peace. Brave leaders — Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Rabin — reached treaties with two of your neighbors. You made credible proposals to the Palestinians at Annapolis. You withdrew from Gaza and Lebanon, and then faced terror and rockets.”
However those “credible proposals at Annapolis” had never suggested that the “1967 lines” and “land swaps” be the starting point for negotiations.
Yet Obama, the European Union and the United Nations persisted with these demands until the dying days of Obama’s Presidency — when America abstained — rather than veto - Security Council Resolution 2334 which expressed:
“grave concern that continuing Israeli settlement activities are dangerously imperilling the viability of the two-State solution based on the 1967 lines,”
The Bush-Quartet Roadmap and the Bush-Congress Commitments comprise the only mutually agreed two-state negotiating process.
President Trump and the Congress can ensure the survival of that process — though not necessarily a successful outcome of any negotiations to be conducted under that process - by reaffirming the Bush-Congress Commitments.
Trump and the Congress in so doing would be meeting Netanyahu’s expectations.
America’s restored reputation for keeping agreements made with its closest allies would resonate with Trump’s campaign promise to “Make America Great Again”.