Kurtzer on settlements


There’s been a lot of talk lately about what exactly Israel agreed to on settlements with the Bush administration back in 2003 and 2004. Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Kurtzer weighed in this weekend in the Washington Post, and says there was never any "understanding" reached about the building of settlements:

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.

The first event the Israelis cite is the 2003 discussions on a four-part draft that included the notion that construction within settlements might be permitted if confined to the already built-up areas of the settlements. The idea was to draw a line around the outer perimeter of built-up areas in settlements and to allow building only inside that line. This draft was never codified, and no effort was made then to define the line around the built-up areas of settlements. Nonetheless, Israel began to act largely in accordance with its own reading of these provisions, probably believing that U.S. silence conferred assent.

Second, 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.

In his 2004 letter to Rice, Weissglas addressed the issue of the "construction line," saying that "within the agreed principles of settlement activities, an effort will be made in the next few days to have a better definition of the construction line of settlements in Judea & Samaria." However, there never were any "agreed principles of settlement activities." Moreover, the effort to define the "construction line" was never consummated: Israel and the United States discussed briefly but did not reach agreement on the definition of the construction line of settlements. Weissglas’s letter also promised "continuous action" to remove all the unauthorized outposts, but Israel removed almost none of them.

Throughout this period, the Bush administration did not regularly protest Israel’s continuing settlement activity. But this is very different from arguing that the United States agreed with it. In recent days, former senior Bush administration officials have told journalists on background that no understandings existed with Israel regarding continued settlement activity.

Last month, former Bush administration official Elliott Abrams told the Post that was not a written agreement, but there was an "understanding" between the U.S. and Israel:

Elliott Abrams, a former deputy national security adviser who negotiated the arrangement with Weissglas, confirmed the deal in an interview last week. "At the time of the Gaza withdrawal, there were lengthy discussions about how settlement activity might be constrained, and in fact it was constrained in the later part of the Sharon years and the Olmert years in accordance with the ideas that were discussed," he said. "There was something of an understanding realized on these questions, but it was never a written agreement."

The Obama administration has said that none of the 2003-2004 understandings are valid.

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