Palestine – Obama Sinks America’s Integrity and Reputation

May 22, 2011 by David Singer
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Remarks made by President Obama at the State Department in Washington on 19 May indicate he is prepared to honour some – but not all – commitments made to Israel by former American President George W Bush in his letter to Israeli Prime Minister Sharon on 14 April 2004 (the Bush Letter).

President Obama first stressed the following points:

1. It is up to the Israelis and Palestinians to take action. No peace can be imposed upon them — not by the United States; not by anybody else.

2. What America and the international community can do is to state frankly what everyone knows — a lasting peace will involve two states for two peoples: 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 enjoying self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace.

President Obama was indeed confirming America’s written commitment to Israel in the Bush Letter

“The United States is strongly committed to Israel’s security and well-being as a Jewish state.”

This commitment – made now by two American Presidents to Israel – has been repeatedly rejected by the Palestinian Authority, Fatah, the PLO, Hamas and the Arab League. But it is a commitment that America has no intention of abandoning.

However President Obama ignored another commitment in the Bush Letter when he then told his State Department audience:

“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 is contrary to the following statement appearing in the Bush Letter:

“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.”
Bush had clearly committed to back Israel’s position that sovereignty in 100% of the land occupied in the Six Day War by Israel would not be ceded in any ultimate peace settlement.

Obama was obviously trying to wheedle his way out of this Bush commitment by some semantic toe stepping. – suggesting that

1. any loss of such territory to Israel could be compensated by an equivalent swap of existing Israeli sovereign territory and

2. this swap could still lead to the creation of secure borders for Israel.

Israel was certainly not prepared to let Obama back peddle from the terms of the Bush Letter .

The Israeli rebuttal was swift and came just one day later when Israel’s Prime Minster told President Obama during a meeting at the White House:

“ I think for there to be peace, the Palestinians will have to accept some basic realities. The first is that while Israel is prepared to make generous compromises for peace, it cannot go back to the 1967 lines — because these lines are indefensible; because they don’t take into account certain changes that have taken place on the ground, demographic changes that have taken place over the last 44 years.”

Those concerned to ensure that American Presidential commitments made to third parties are honored and upheld by their successors should be as equally worried as Israel at Obama’s apparent attempt to breach such a fundamental Presidential commitment.

The price Israel paid to secure the Bush Letter was its decision to unilaterally disengage from Gaza in 2005. This disengagement exposed Israel’s civilian population living in its southern region to the threat of continuing indiscriminate missile and terrorist attacks from Gaza without any Israeli military forces being retained in Gaza any more to prevent, defend and respond to any such attacks. 8000 Israeli citizens were forced to evacuate their homes and businesses established in Gaza over the preceding 38 years.

This is indeed what happened after Israel disengaged from Gaza in 2005 – with disastrous consequences for both civilian populations in Israel and Gaza and for those 8000 Israelis who had evacuated Gaza..

Jeopardizing its security on the entire Gaza front required Israel to be absolutely assured of American commitment to Israel’s security on the West Bank front. That assessment saw the refusal to cede sovereignty in 100% of the West Bank and East Jerusalem as being non-negotiable.

America’s decision to stand by and support Israel on this fundamental territorial issue is critical.

Israel’s Government in 2008 had unsuccessfully explored the possibility of land swaps with the Palestinian Authority – but those negotiations ended inconclusively and are now in total lock down.

Exploring land swaps might again be considered by Israel in future negotiations. The current Israeli Government shows no intention to do so. But that will have to be Israel’s decision – not America’s.

America’s view – now or later – regarding land swaps is irrelevant under the Bush Letter.

President Obama’s statement will no doubt be seen by some to indicate a shift in America’s position – perhaps made in an attempt to induce the Palestinian Authority to resume the stalled negotiations with Israel.

Obama’s position will be viewed by Israel and its supporters as a shift that does no honor to America and badly damages its reputation and integrity.

The Bush commitment was made for an Israeli commitment that has resulted in the death, injury and traumatisation of tens of thousands of Israelis.

Obama’s attempt to minimize or modify that commitment in any way must be firmly and publicly resisted by Israel and its supporters in the American Congress – which had voted overwhelmingly in favor of President Bush signing the Bush Letter in the first place.

Doing so will certainly help restore America’s reputation for honesty and transparency in its dealings with third parties – and for standing by and remaining staunchly committed to the decisions of its Presidents.

Aren’t these indeed cardinal democratic principles which Obama – as leader of the world’s leading democracy – is sworn to uphold?

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


6 Responses to “Palestine – Obama Sinks America’s Integrity and Reputation”
  1. Lynne Newington says:

    Well David, the comments of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi on the election of Obama that a new America has been born maybe what is now eventuating.
    I know all about “cardinal agreements being kept” I’m afraid.

  2. Sandra Josepnine Hepner says:

    No one can take the moral high ground, because occupied territories are occupied territories and not modern Israel… Palestine wants all Israel, and the occupied territories, supposedly Israelis security buffer, are in reality a hotbed of torment and forment…Lisa is right when she says the U.S. ARE NOT THE iNTERNATIONAL POLICE, BUT The U.N. are the rule setters…anyway Presicent Obama is onto something when he mentions swaps…tit for tat rat a tat, we are sick of all that… The Middle East is turning to democracy as reported in the news daily, and so just perhaps Palestine and Israel will follow this trend…

  3. david singer says:

    #To Lisa K

    Julia Gillard certainly has to honor a written agreement made between another State and Australia by a Government led by John Howard – unless of course that agreement is subsequently breached by that other State or the party in opposition in Australia says it will cancel the agreement if elected to power.

    The USA has established itself as a meticulous and trusted State whose agreements with other States can be relied on to be observed no matter who subsequently wins government.

    Obama has now put America’s intention to continue to do so in grave doubt.

    Don’t you believe America should honor a written agreement it has made?

  4. david singer says:

    To Lynne Newington

    The idea that agreements should be honored is basic to the conduct of all human affairs -more particularly in the conduct of dealings between states.

    Two democratic states made an agreement binding America and Israel pursuant to the Bush /Sharon exchange of letters on 14 April 2004. That agreement was ratified by their respective legislatures.That agreement then became binding on subsequent administrations whether they be of the same or different political persuasions.

    Until 19 May 2011 both States scrupulously and honorably observed the terms of that agreement.

    Obama’s repudiation of the Bush /Sharon agreement on 19 May 2011 could have serious consequences for the future conduct of America’s dealings with other States and lead to total loss of its trust, integrity and reputation.

    Obama will have to answer to his Congress and ultimately to his electorate for what he said.

    Israel will have to respond as its democratically elected Government decides and which it will ask its electorate to support at the next elections.

    That’s how democracies work .

    The consequences of one State repudiating commitments made to another State can be devastating on the citizens of both states – and even on the citizens of other states.

    I think Obama will come to rue the day he uttered those 30 ill-considered words. He has landed America with a huge problem in the future conduct of its relations with other states.

    America’s reputation and integrity can only be restored by Obama issuing an appropriately worded retraction.

  5. Lisa K says:

    To Mr David Singer..
    America bashing at it’s worst. It is like saying What John Howard said or did when PM, Julia Gillard has to do exactly… there will never be peace in the MidEast and we all know it. Stop bashing the USA and ask what is Great Britain doing? France? Russia? AUSTRALIA! NOTHING! The USA is not the World’s Police.
    As a dual citizen of the USA and Australia, I am so sick of all of this America bashing. Just blame the Americans for everything. Easy way out..

  6. Lynne Newington says:

    These day’s, anything with the connotaion of “cardinal principles, honesty and transparency”, regardless of who say’s it or how many parties are involved, sends warning bells, if it doesn’t well it should.
    The news is full of it.

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