Palestine – Obama Continues to Fudge on America’s Commitment to Israel

May 23, 2011 by David Singer
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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
  3. 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.

 

Comments

13 Responses to “Palestine – Obama Continues to Fudge on America’s Commitment to Israel”
  1. david singer says:

    To Harold Zweier

    I am amazed that you should seek to compare the Bush Letter to John Howard’s Workchoices legislation and Kevin Rudd’s challenge to throw out such legislation.

    Work Choices was a policy that was bitterly opposed by the ALP at every stage of its passage and its abolition was a prime campaign promise at the next election.

    The Bush Letter was however overwhelmingly endorsed by the House and the Senate by a margin of 502-13 on 23 and 24 June 2004. The Bush Letter was given as part of a package to secure Israel’s disengagement from Gaza and its backing by the Congress amounts to a commitment that future Presidents cannot unilaterally abrogate.

  2. Otto Waldmann says:

    Harold Zwier’s views are completly wrong.
    There are massive differences between the Bush and Obama administrations regarding Israel.
    Bush, in his letter to Congress as well as on many other occassions, see his 24 June 2002 speech at the White House, made it clear that the 1949 armistice borders, which were identical to the 1967 were NOT at all a point of referrence in the Israel-palestinian negotiations. GW Bush SPECIFICALLY said that !!!
    Bush, unlike Obama who did not raise the issue, considered Hamas a terrorist organisation, similar, as he stated,to Hizbolah, one which did not meet any criteria of a party qualified to be involved in a future palestinian state, let alone seen as a political component of the negotiating process. Bush, unlike Obama , emphasized the essential necessity for the entire palestinian “society” to undertake massive changes, from the very top to its populace base, and Bush pointed to endemic corruption,complete lack of any democratic structures etc.Bush emphasized that the UN 242 and 338 resolutions were mere guidelines for negotiations and NOT compulsory, irreducible components.
    Indeed, American administrations do NOT function at ALL on the “precedent” principle. Each President, particularly of late, post WWII, allowed his own agenda to prevail, irrespective of the previous directions.
    It is not al all surprising the fact that, after his meetings with WG Bush, Sharon stated that Israel never had a closer friend than George W Bush, a view echoed by the whole of Israel. That in itself says volumes when compared with the reception in Israel of Obama’s stances, not to mention Netanyahu’s own obvious displeasure in the drastic difference of the new US Administration to the previous one.
    These are well known facts, out in the open, public arena and,as such, incontestable.

  3. Harold Zwier says:

    To David Singer.

    Thanks for your response.

    I don’t think I have missed your point. But it seems remarkable to believe that the policies articulated by a US president from the Republican party would as a matter of course bind his successor from the Democratic party. Did the Work Choices policy of John Howard bind Kevin Rudd?

    What has been consistent, is US support for Israel, regardless of the dominant political party and president. The approach of Bill Clinton to Israel was different to that of George Bush. And the approach of George Bush was different to Barak Obama. But all have been strenuously vocal in their support for Israel.

    Ultimately, the US will do what it perceives to be in its best interests, just as Israel too will act in what it perceives to be its best interests. However much some in the worldwide Jewish community might like to see the relationship between the US and Israel as being one of equals, it is clearly not so.

    It is also worth noting that political differences are not necessarily struggles of good versus evil or knowledge versus ignorance. In Australia, the Federal Opposition is also called the Loyal Opposition which is a means of formalising the importance and value of different views. That Obama’s approach to Israel is different to yours is clear, but asserting that “the President is talking utter nonsense” is mere assertion, and invoking Bush’s commitments as in some way binding Obama, is a not very convincing political contortion.

  4. david singer says:

    To Harold Zwier

    Thank you for your thoughtful contribution – however I think you are missing my point.

    The commitment (among others) made in the Bush letter was that America would support Israel’s refusal to cede sovereignty in all of the territory won in the Six Day War.

    Certainly Israel might decide to make land swaps as part of the negotiating process. It had done so in 2008. That did not bind a new Israeli Government in 2011 to do likewise.

    What Obama suggested – “mutual swaps” – i.e. mutually swapping one piece of sovereign Israeli territory for another piece of the West Bank – was not what the Bush Letter said – “Mutual changes” – i.e. mutually agreeing on the new border to replace the 1967 armistice lines without any suggestion this would involve the swapping of sovereign Israeli territory.

    To that extent Obama has deviated from the terms of the Bush Letter.

    Netanyahu can ignore or proceed along Obama’s preferred direction of land swaps. But the decision is Israel’s and the ultimate designation of a new boundary will be required to be supported by America pursuant to its commitment under the Bush Letter.

  5. Otto Waldmann says:

    Harold Zwiers view looks acceptable if extrapolations, and their inherent ommissions, are acceptable for the sake of…loking acceptable.
    The “little” gap, in substance, measuring, say,ten thousand miles, between the complete text and the incomplete said extrapollations mark the same size gap between GW Bush’s and Obama’s take on the Israel-palestinian situation. Most importantly, the distinction of other, extremely important factors conducive to the elusive peace. Bush had a vision – and firm gripon reality of – upon the palestinian status which had, as a cornerstone, the palestinian content of terrorist, undemocratic, corrupt features. Bush addressed specifically more than once ( see also his June 24, 2002 speech )those issues as imperatives to be dealt with.Obama, stumm about the same.
    BUT, in relation to the actual borders, Bush, UNLIKE Obama, said and wrote that returning to the armistice borders of 1949, which are the same as the 1967, WAS NOT AN OPTION for Israel. Bush also stated clearly, as clear as diplomatic and formal political language allows, that Israel is NOT bound strictly at all by the UN 242 and 338 resolutions. They were the BASIS for negotiations, paramount being Israel’s prevalence against a palestinian entity which required as a sine qua non those essential changes in structure and ethics ( terror, corruption etc. ) .And those caveats were closely related by Bush to secure borders.Here may be a logical peg to hang your argument: if the palestinians will sort out terror, corruption, education onto breeding future terrorists, then almost “any” borders would be secure, BUT that line was not and still is not persued by anyone, incl. the writer of the reply. And now that I said it, I regret it !
    The complexity of the issue cannot allow for ex catedra musings on a fraction of a phrase and the respective wilful and convenient , forensic style,misinterpretation. Otherwise, the reply in question has no apparent spelling mistakes.
    And, surely,one presidential position does not have to be consistent at all with a previous one, and don’t we know it !!!

  6. Harold Zwier says:

    This view is based on what many people believe to be an established principle of halachic ruling that runs along the lines of “a present day beit din can’t overturn the decision of an earlier beit din”. The problem is that this “principle” is something of an urban myth for a variety of reasons which aren’t relevant here.

    By David Singer’s reasoning, later US administrations would be bound by committments made by earlier administrations. But committments according to the interpretation of who?

    According to Singer, the Bush letter said: “….It is realistic to expect that any final status agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these (facts on the ground) realities.”

    He then asserts that “America’s commitment in the Bush Letter was clear and unambiguous.”

    To interpret Bush’s letter as “clear and unambiguous” is a distortion of logic.

    As Singer himself says: “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.”

    But it is equally true to say that Bush’s “mutually agreed changes” don’t rule out Israel making land swaps of Israeli sovereign territory in exchange for land retained by Israel in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.

    On that equally valid reading of Bush’s letter, Obama has not deviated from Bush’s line, other than to articulate it with different words. In fact, Obama’s articulation clarifies Bush’s words so that Singer’s interpretation of Bush’s words can now be seen to be wrong.

    In any case Obama’s articulation of mutally agreed land swaps is the same formulation that has been understood by people on all sides of the conflict for a generation. It is Singer’s view that is new and ultimately disturbing because it doesn’t really provide much of an incentive to Palestinians to negotiate and leaves the question hanging as to what pain Netanyahu was referring to when he addressed the US Congress on 24th May and said “I am willing to make painful compromises to achieve peace”.

  7. Otto Waldmann says:

    To David Singer

    We could, indeed, engage in exchanging countless suppositions of the possible attitudes emerging fromthe White House and you can reliably count on me being in complete agreement with what you may venture on the subject.
    My comments above were mere musings on the vexed, as I said, issue of the prevailing Presidentialprerogatives in determining foreign policies in the US.
    Based on the prevailing position that the President has licence to act in foreign policy matters WITHOUT the endorsement of the Legislatures,the distinctively luke warm reception at the White House, compared with the unprecedented delight expressed by the joint Houses to Netanyahu, compells one to desire that the White House would have been half as welcoming as the Legislatures. Based on this condideration we could speculate now on what effects would have the public, ostensive, less accommodating Presidential stance toward Israel to the evolving events.Things could become worse for Israel, should Obama decide to allow the palestinians larger latitudes vs Israel.And, observe, all my foci are on THE PRESIDENT, while allowing the Congress a much lesser determining function. To this extent, the President is acting according to the Louis XIV ‘s ownership of the ( Dept. of ) State principle…

  8. david singer says:

    To Otto Waldman

    The Congress approved the Bush Letter by the overwhelming majority of 502-12 thereby securing Israel’s unilateral disengagement from Gaza. America’s commitment to Israel is clearly and unambiguously set out in the meticulously drafted Bush Letter

    Obama risks the loss of American honor and trust if he tries to unravel that deal.

    Certainly Obama can suggest Israel consider land swaps in the process of any negotiations – if they are ever resumed. But if Israel does not consider land swaps, then there is little Obama can do to reverse the terms of the Bush Letter. Were he to attempt to do so I am sure the Congress would have something to say to save America’s reputation and integrity from being trashed.

  9. david singer says:

    To M S Sharwood

    Very profound comment.

  10. Otto Waldmann says:

    Commentators, “mere” observers, active parties involved in the nexuses of bi and multilateral negotiations are faced with a few fundamentals.

    One of them is the vexed issue of US President’s REAL and tangible prerogatives in the foreign policies area as against the same Foreign affairs area being the responsibility of the Congress and Senate.
    Considering the almost polarised reception Netanyahu encountered in the White House as against the joint seating of the Houses, one would hope that the President would be a complying subject to the much better half of the US political edifice.
    Numerous arguments are on record dedicated to the US Constitutional position regarding the Executive vs Constitutional Chambers.So far, for reasons of dubious merit, the President’s decision prerogatives have prevailed.
    As the Executive does not shy away from conflicts, particularly with a Congress of the opposite majority, the enthusiastic reception ( maybe the MOST enthusiastic reception on record ) Bibi has enjoyed in the joint session maybe seen as just an emotional encouragement/recofirmation that, within this seemingly conflictual configuration, the Legislature is on our side. This means that, in practical terms, White House is yet to be swayed the Israel way.

    The second consideration, strictly related to the first one, is that the manifest dialectics between the Executive and Israel are just a necessary timely exercise in addressing related, but essential, issues to the greater American Middle Eastern, general world islamic picture.The gravitas expressed by all US Admin. present in the Oval Office during the meeting of Obama with Bibi, as seen on TV, had a very important, however subliminal meaning. That is to do with the facts on the – Muslim – ground that Israel is a major stamblig bloc in the concrete American involvement in the seemingly unsurmountable military American effort smiles away from Israel, in Afg.,Irak and now, anew, “some other” additional headaches in Northern Africa, Syria, Yemen, Pakistan etc.
    The Pentagon, which does not seem to harbour many Jewish sounding names, thinks and acts in a world of its own. Thinking as such aside, the action does not always reflect that aside so impressively. Not once we have seen and heard the Military being visibly annoyed by the very omnipresence of the “Israel issue” wherever the Military are supposed to produce on the ground results, be it “just” three thousand miles from the “issue” itself.
    As the Presidential PR has been evolving, juxtaposed to the overwhelimg events in the Muslim world, the ONLY perception in the symbolic way of the American entity is the President. Not because the enemies of the US would be aware of the said counudrum of foreign affairs prerogatives, but in a symplified way, the President and the Flag are those put to the torch each time America is to be punished in the agora of hatred. Therefore it is also the same President who must be seen being broyges with Israel. For his part Bibi is playing the part he is supposed to play and, for mine,he is saying exactly what I would when invited by the joint seating and seating in that Georgian elegant armchair in the Oval Office.
    The concluding statement is that, in fact and essence, one should NOT see the above appearances as the syndromme of divisivness between the two “divergent” political bodies in the American administration of national concerns, but simply a seemingly contradictory expressions of PR cosmetics.The american Constitution does not ALLOW for a conflictual division of powers, quite to the contrary it expresses confidence in the President that he ( or one day she ) is completely concordant with what the Nation desires, as expressed by the FUNDAMENTAL representation of THE Nation, the joint houses.
    What are we to do ?!! Confidence in our friends in Amerike, unfettered loyalty to Zionut and…savlanut.

  11. M.S.Sharwood says:

    If any world leader, especially Obama, had bothered to ascertain the true facts, the debate would not be about what land Israel should return,or what concessions Israel should make,in order to bring about a Palestinian State, but rather about what conditions the Palestinians must accept, if Israel is to GIFT them Israeli land to build their State.For the West Bank is[as was Gaza]legally part of the Jewish National Home enshrined in International law, and Jews are entitled to settle there at will. The triumph of the Palestinians has been to make the World believe that Israel is the illegal occupier of their land, and the terrible failure of Israel has been to allow that myth to prosper.

  12. david singer says:

    To Sam Goldman

    Thanks Sam. I find a little independent analysis goes a long way rather than following the media pack.
    What you read in the Herald or the Australian is a repeat of what is the media everywhere.
    Perhaps one of the worst transgressions is to constantly refer to the 1967 armistice lines as the “1967 borders”. A border denotes a permanent separating barrier between two countries which acknowledges each others sovereignty on the other side. In fact in 1967 there was only an armistice line between Jordan and Israel established in 1949 at the end of hostilities. Hopefully there was to be a final agreement but it never eventuated when the Six Day War broke out in 1967. It has no significance or permanency but only indicates where both armies stood when hostilities ended.
    It is encouraging to see Obama at least using the term”1967 lines”. Each word in this conflict really requires careful examination and scrutiny. Both Netanyahu and Obama have made it clear that Israel will not be returning to this line in the sand – given what has happened over the last 47 years.
    That was always going to be the inevitable result so it was not hard for me to expect that to happen if there was to be any chance of ending the conflict peacefully.

  13. sam goldman says:

    president obama should be stripped of his nobel peace prize and the prize given to david singer.
    david has worked for peace between israel and the palestinians for many years and his original ” jordan is palestine” idea was and is probably the most astute, sensible and original thought that has been presented for peace in this troubled region.
    david’s scrutiny of every word uttered by world leaders has been so precise that by successfully dismantling their speeches, he exposes their lack of knowledge and depth of history, of the israel-palestinian conflict.
    david congratulations on your amazing and sterling analysis of all the speeches.

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