In an op-ed in The Washington Post on June 14th, Daniel Kurtzer, former US ambassador to Israel wrote in The Settlement Facts
Today, Israel maintains that three events -- namely, draft understandings discussed in 2003 between Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and U.S. deputy national security adviser Stephen Hadley; President George W. Bush's April 14, 2004, letter to Sharon; and an April 14 letter from Sharon adviser Dov Weissglas to national security adviser Condoleezza Rice -- constitute a formal understanding in which the United States accepted continuing Israeli building within the "construction line" of settlements. The problem is that there was no such understanding. [emphasis added]In regards to President Bush's letter, Kurtzer explains:
President Bush's 2004 letter conveyed U.S. support of an agreed outcome of negotiations in which Israel would retain "existing major Israeli population centers" in the West Bank "on the basis of mutually agreed changes . . . ." One of the key provisions of this letter was that U.S. support for Israel's retaining some settlements was predicated on there being an "agreed outcome" of negotiations. Despite Israel's contention that this letter allowed it to continue building in the large settlement blocs of Ariel, Maale Adumim and Gush Etzion, the letter did not convey any U.S. support for or understanding of Israeli settlement activities in these or other areas in the run-up to a peace agreement. [emphasis added]That is now. But back on March 25, 2005--in an interview with Israel Television Channel Ten while he was ambassador--Kurtzer said something different:
QUESTION: So President Bush is willing to leave settlement blocs in Israeli sovereignty in the future agreement just as Clinton was?
AMBASSADOR KURTZER: He said it clearly in the letter of last April - I can
say it again to the people of Israel. The President remains committed to
what he said in that letter: That in a negotiation on final status, the
outcome is going to mean that Israeli major population areas in our view
should remain within the State of Israel....
I believe there is full understanding between the Prime Minister and the
President and between the Prime Minister's office and his advisors and the
President's office and the President's advisors. Our discussions with the
Prime Minister, with Dov Weissglas, Shalom Turgeman, with all of the
officials who are associated with the Prime Minister's office have been very
clear and quite specific and that is what allowed us last April to reach a
very specific understanding that was then incorporated in a letter that the
President signed and was able to make public. So, I do not believe there are
any misunderstandings between us.
QUESTION: So, when Dov Weissglas says it is about Maale Adumim, about Ariel,
about all the big settlement blocs, it is okay, you stand behind this thing
AMBASSADOR KURTZER: The Government of Israel is going to make its
statements, the American government will make its statements. When we reach
understandings as we do have understandings, these are incorporated in
documents such as this letter. That letter remains the President's policy,
... I think it is critically important, particularly now, the Prime Minister
is about to go to Washington again, to understand that the United States and
Israel do not have misunderstandings with respect to U.S. commitments. Those
commitments are very, very firm with respect to these Israeli major
population centers, our expectation that Israel is not going to be going
back to the 1967 lines. This is the President's policy. This President has
been very determined in having consistent and sure policy throughout his
time in office. That is the reality, that is the truth.
Steve Rosen writes in Obama Mideast Monitor about the background to the conflicting op-eds by Elliott Abramsand Daniel Kurtzer. Rosen notes that Kurtzer--
confirmed to Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post in April 2008, that he had opposed accepting an April 2004 letter from Sharon's chief of staff, Dov Weissglas, reconfirming U.S.-Israeli understandings that restrictions on the growth of settlements would be made "within the agreed principles of settlement activities," which would include "a better definition of the construction line of settlements" on the West Bank. Weissglas also confirmed that a U.S.-Israeli team would "jointly define the construction line of each of the settlements." Kessler reported, "Daniel Kurtzer, then the U.S. ambassador to Israel, said he argued at the time against accepting the Weissglas letter. 'I thought it was a really bad idea,' he said. 'It would legitimize the settlements, and it gave them a blank check.' But the White House did accept the Weissglas letter. In the end, Kurtzer said the White House never followed up with the plan to define construction lines. 'Washington lost interest in it when it became clear it would not be easy to do,' he said.So these dueling op-eds by Kurtzer and Abrams are a continuation of a policy war withing the Bush Administration, a war that Kurtzer lost at the time but is trying to win now. [emphasis added]The Obama administration really should heed the advice of the Washington Post this morning, and stop pushing on the issue of the settlements. At the very least, it will allow the administration to stop contradicting itself.