Earlier I noted this exchange on Sunday involving Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, on the issue of Israel’s assertion that it had understandings with the Bush administration allowing for some settlement growth:
STEPHANOPOULOS: But they say that includes an understanding for natural growth inside the settlements.
CLINTON: Well, that was an understanding that was entered into, so far as we are told, orally. That was never made a part of the official record of the negotiations as it was passed on to our administration. No one in the Bush administration said to anyone that we can find in our administration…
STEPHANOPOULOS: Not Elliot Abrams? He wrote about that.
CLINTON: Nobody in a position of authority at the time that the Obama administration came into office said anything about it. And, in fact, there’s also a record that President Bush contradicted even that oral agreement.
But the fact is that the road map, which was agreed to officially, adopted by the Israeli government, said something very clear about settlements.
So I think that what the president is doing is saying, Look, everybody should comply with the obligations you’ve already committed to. And for the Palestinians, let’s not forget: They must end incitement against Israel. They must demonstrate an ability to provide security.
If the Israeli position is that the Obama administration should be honoring such side understandings reached during the Bush administration… then someone better get the memo to Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. In his first speech upon taking office, Lieberman appeared to dismiss the notion of off-the-books side agreements, insisting that Israel is only bound by the "road map":
… There is one document that binds us and it is not the Annapolis Conference. That has no validity. When we drafted the basic government policy guidelines, we certainly stated that we would honor all the agreements and all the undertakings of previous governments. The continuity of government is respected in Israel. I voted against the Road Map, but that was the only document approved by the Cabinet and by the Security Council – I believe it was Resolution 1505. It is a binding resolution and it binds this government as well.
The Israeli government never approved Annapolis, neither the Cabinet nor the Knesset, so anyone who wants to amuse himself can continue to do so. I have seen all the proposals made so generously by Ehud Olmert, but I have not seen any results.
So we will therefore act exactly according to the Road Map, including the Tenet document and the Zinni document. I will never agree to our waiving all the clauses — I believe there are 48 of them — and going directly to the last clause, negotiations on a permanent settlement. No. These concessions do not achieve anything. We will adhere to it to the letter, exactly as written. Clauses one, two, three, four — dismantling terrorist organizations, establishing an effective government, making a profound constitutional change in the Palestinian Authority. We will proceed exactly according to the clauses. …
To be sure, Lieberman and Clinton have different understandings of when Israel’s obligations kick in. But, judging from these comments (granted, Lieberman’s were delivered on April 1), Israel’s and America’s top diplomats essentially agree that the only game in town is the "road map" — and that any unwritten side understandings no longer apply.