Netanyahu needs Trump answer on Bush-Congress Commitments to Israel

February 1, 2017 by David Singer
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Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu will be meeting America’s President Trump on 15 February under very different circumstances to those when Netanyahu met President Obama on 20 May 2011…writes David Singer.President Obama had delivered a wide-ranging address on the Middle East just the day before when he dropped the following bombshell on his view of how negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority should proceed:

“The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine.  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.  The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their full potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.” 

Before boarding his plane for Washington Netanyahu said 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.”

Those 2004 commitments to Israel had been made by President Bush in a letter to Israel’s then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon dated 14 April 2004 (“the Bush Commitments”).

Obama never obliged Netanyahu by reaffirming those Bush Commitments.

Netanyahu did not press Obama to do so – though he had opportunities during

  • Remarks by Obama and Netanyahu After their Bilateral Meeting
  • An address by Netanyahu to AIPAC on 23 May 2011
  • An emotion-charged speech Netanyahu gave to a joint sitting of the Congress on 24 May 2011

Netanyahu’s oversight in failing to mention the Bush Commitments in his Congress speech was a grievous error of judgement – since they had been endorsed in the House – 407 votes to 9 – and in the Senate – 95 votes to 3.

Those commitments – supporting Israel’s unilateral disengagement from Gaza and part of the West Bank and marking real progress in realizing Bush’s Roadmap – included the following commitment:

“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.”

Bush’s “mutually agreed changes” differed markedly from Obama’s “mutually agreed swaps”– which required Israel to swap some of its sovereign territory to gain sovereignty in any part of the West Bank.

Changes in the 1949 armistice lines could be made under the Bush Commitments without Israel having to make any such land swaps.

Obama had renounced and repudiated his predecessor’s commitment to Israel with this sneaky turn of phrase – adding insult to injury by demeaning and slapping Congress in the face for its enthusiastic and overwhelming endorsement of the Bush Commitments.

In his AIPAC address – Netanyahu made mention of Israel’s:

“terrific Ambassador to the United States, a man who knows a few things about the U.S.-Israel alliance, Michael Oren”

Michael Oren – now a Knesset member – made the following call on 5 January 2015:

“The time has come to revive Bush’s letter to Sharon and to act in accordance with it.”

As Netanyahu readies for his ground-breaking meeting with Trump he needs to heed Oren’s call and get a definitive answer this time from both Trump and the Congress.

Lightning can indeed strike twice in both the White House and Capitol Hill.

David Singer is a Sydney Lawyer and Foundation Member of the International Analysts Network