Remarks made by President Obama at the State Department in Washington on 19 May indicate he is prepared to honor 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:
- 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.
- 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 with 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 recognised 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 per cent 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:
- Any loss of such territory to Israel could be compensated by an equivalent swap of existing Israeli sovereign territory; and
- 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 toldPresident 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.”
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