Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is denying that there were understandings between the Bush Administration and the Sharon and Olmert governments that limited natural growth of settlements but permitted some construction within agreed constraints. She said on June 17, "In looking at the history of the Bush Administration, there were no informal or oral enforceable agreements. That has been verified by the official record of the Administration and by the personnel in the positions of responsibility." Clinton pointed to an op ed "Our former ambassador Dan Kurtzer has written...that appeared in the last few days that lays out our position on that." Kurtzer said a draft agreement on the "construction line" principle "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.... [but] there never were any 'agreed principles of settlement activities.'"
Today, Elliott Abrams, who headed the Mideast team at the Bush White House and participated in the key discussions with Israeli officials about the settlements freeze issue, weighed in with an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal stating forcefully that, "There were indeed agreements between Israel and the United States regarding the growth of Israeli settlements on the West Bank...principles that would permit some continuing growth....They emerged from discussions with American officials and were discussed by Messrs. Sharon and Bush at their Aqaba meeting in June 2003....The prime minister of Israel relied on them in undertaking a wrenching political reorientation -- the dissolution of his government, the removal of every single Israeli citizen, settlement and military position in Gaza, and the removal of four small settlements in the West Bank...For reasons that remain unclear, the Obama administration has decided to abandon the understandings about settlements reached by the previous administration with the Israeli government. We may be abandoning the deal now, but we cannot rewrite history and make believe it did not exist."
A little history here will help to explain the contradiction between Abrams and Kurtzer. Abrams and Steve Hadley, the Deputy National Security Adviser to Bush at the time, crafted the settlements growth understandings. Dan Kurtzer, then U.S. Ambassador to Israel, opposed them. He 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. Because of the importance of this issue, the full texts of the Abrams and Kurtzer accounts are given below.
Hillary Is Wrong About the Settlements
The U.S. and Israel reached a clear understanding about natural growth.
By ELLIOTT ABRAMS Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page A15 JUNE 25, 2009
Despite fervent denials by Obama administration officials, there were indeed agreements between Israel and the United States regarding the growth of Israeli settlements on the West Bank. As the Obama administration has made the settlements issue a major bone of contention between Israel and the U.S., it is necessary that we review the recent history.
In the spring of 2003, U.S. officials (including me) held wide-ranging discussions with then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Jerusalem. The "Roadmap for Peace" between Israel and the Palestinians had been written. President George W. Bush had endorsed Palestinian statehood, but only if the Palestinians eliminated terror. He had broken with Yasser Arafat, but Arafat still ruled in the Palestinian territories. Israel had defeated the intifada, so what was next?
We asked Mr. Sharon about freezing the West Bank settlements. I recall him asking, by way of reply, what did that mean for the settlers? They live there, he said, they serve in elite army units, and they marry. Should he tell them to have no more children, or move?
We discussed some approaches: Could he agree there would be no additional settlements? New construction only inside settlements, without expanding them physically? Could he agree there would be no additional land taken for settlements?
As we talked several principles emerged. The father of the settlements now agreed that limits must be placed on the settlements; more fundamentally, the old foe of the Palestinians could -- under certain conditions -- now agree to Palestinian statehood.
In June 2003, Mr. Sharon stood alongside Mr. Bush, King Abdullah II of Jordan, and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas at Aqaba, Jordan, and endorsed Palestinian statehood publicly: "It is in Israel's interest not to govern the Palestinians but for the Palestinians to govern themselves in their own state. A democratic Palestinian state fully at peace with Israel will promote the long-term security and well-being of Israel as a Jewish state." At the end of that year he announced his intention to pull out of
the Gaza Strip.
The U.S. government supported all this, but asked Mr. Sharon for two more things. First, that he remove some West Bank settlements; we wanted Israel to show that removing them was not impossible. Second, we wanted him to pull out of Gaza totally -- including every single settlement and the "Philadelphi Strip" separating Gaza from Egypt, even though holding on to this strip would have prevented the smuggling of weapons to Hamas that was feared and has now come to pass. Mr. Sharon agreed on both counts.
These decisions were political dynamite, as Mr. Sharon had long predicted to us. In May 2004, his Likud Party rejected his plan in a referendum, handing him a resounding political defeat. In June, the Cabinet approved the withdrawal from Gaza, but only after Mr. Sharon fired two ministers and allowed two others to resign. His majority in the Knesset was now shaky.
After completing the Gaza withdrawal in August 2005, he called in November for a dissolution of the Knesset and for early elections. He also said he would leave Likud to form a new centrist party. The political and personal strain was very great. Four weeks later he suffered the first of two strokes that have left him in a coma.
Throughout, the Bush administration gave Mr. Sharon full support for his actions against terror and on final status issues. On April 14, 2004, Mr. Bush handed Mr. Sharon a letter saying that there would be no "right of return" for Palestinian refugees. Instead, the president said, "a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue as part of any final status agreement will need to be found through the establishment of a Palestinian state, and the settling of Palestinian refugees there, rather than in Israel."
On the major settlement blocs, Mr. Bush said, "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." Several previous administrations had declared all Israeli settlements beyond the "1967 borders" to be illegal. Here Mr. Bush dropped such language, referring to the 1967 borders -- correctly -- as merely the lines where the fighting stopped in 1949, and saying that in any realistic peace agreement Israel would be able to negotiate keeping those major settlements.
On settlements we also agreed on principles that would permit some continuing growth. Mr. Sharon stated these clearly in a major policy speech in December 2003: "Israel will meet all its obligations with regard to construction in the settlements. There will be no construction beyond the existing construction line, no expropriation of land for construction, no special economic incentives and no construction of new settlements."
Ariel Sharon did not invent those four principles. They emerged from discussions with American officials and were discussed by Messrs. Sharon and Bush at their Aqaba meeting in June 2003.
They were not secret, either. Four days after the president's letter, Mr. Sharon's Chief of Staff Dov Weissglas wrote to Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice that "I wish to reconfirm the following understanding, which had been reached between us: 1. Restrictions on settlement growth: 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."
Stories in the press also made it clear that there were indeed "agreed principles." On Aug. 21, 2004 the New York Times reported that "the Bush administration . . . now supports construction of new apartments in areas already built up in some settlements, as long as the expansion does not extend outward."
In recent weeks, American officials have denied that any agreement on settlements existed. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated on June 17 that "in looking at the history of the Bush administration, there were no informal or oral enforceable agreements. That has been verified by the official record of the administration and by the personnel in the positions of responsibility."
These statements are incorrect. Not only were there agreements, but the prime minister of Israel relied on them in undertaking a wrenching political reorientation -- the dissolution of his government, the removal of every single Israeli citizen, settlement and military position in Gaza, and the removal of four small settlements in the West Bank. This was the first time Israel had ever removed settlements outside the context of a peace treaty, and it was a major step.
It is true that there was no U.S.-Israel "memorandum of understanding," which is presumably what Mrs. Clinton means when she suggests that the "official record of the administration" contains none. But she would do well to consult documents like the Weissglas letter, or the notes of the Aqaba meeting, before suggesting that there was no meeting of the minds.
Mrs. Clinton also said there were no "enforceable" agreements. This is a strange phrase. How exactly would Israel enforce any agreement against an American decision to renege on it? Take it to the International Court in The Hague?
Regardless of what Mrs. Clinton has said, there was a bargained-for exchange. Mr. Sharon was determined to break the deadlock, withdraw from Gaza, remove settlements -- and confront his former allies on Israel's right by abandoning the "Greater Israel" position to endorse Palestinian statehood and limits on settlement growth. He asked for our support and got it, including the agreement that we would not demand a total settlement freeze.
For reasons that remain unclear, the Obama administration has decided to abandon the understandings about settlements reached by the previous administration with the Israeli government. We may be abandoning the deal now, but we cannot rewrite history and make believe it did not exist.
Mr. Abrams, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, handled Middle East affairs at the National Security Council from 2001 to 2009.
The Settlements Facts
By Daniel Kurtzer
Washington Post, June 14, 2009
Faulty analysis of the Israeli settlement issue is being passed off as fact. Charles Krauthammer's June 5 column, "The Settlements Myth," is one example.
Here are the facts: In 2003, the Israeli government accepted, with some reservations, the "road map" for peace, which imposed two requirements on Israel regarding settlements: "GOI [Government of Israel] immediately dismantles settlement outposts erected since March 2001. Consistent with the Mitchell Report, GOI freezes all settlement activity (including natural growth 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.
Commentators also focus on the Obama administration's reiteration that a freeze must include the "natural growth" of settlements. Krauthammer says that this "means strangling to death the thriving towns close to the 1949 armistice line . . . It means no increase in population. Which means no babies." This is nonsense. No one suggests that Israelis stop having babies. Rather, the blessing of a new baby does not translate into a right to build more apartments or houses in settlements. The two issues have nothing to do with each other. Israelis, like Americans, move all the time when life circumstances -- children, jobs, housing availability -- change.
The pattern of population growth in the territories actually undercuts the natural-growth argument. Since 1993, when Israel signed the Oslo Accords, Israel's West Bank settler population has grown from 116,300 to 289,600. The numbers in East Jerusalem increased from 152,800 to more than 186,000. This goes far beyond the natural increase of families already living in the settlements. Inserting the provision of "natural growth" in official documents started with the 2001 Mitchell Report and the 2003 "road map," reflecting recognition that the concept was being abused as a justification for expanding settlements. The Obama administration is pursuing policies that every administration since 1967 has articulated -- that settlements jeopardize the possibility of achieving peace and thus settlement activity should stop. This does not diminish the Palestinians' responsibilities, especially their commitment to stop violence and terrorism and uproot terrorist infrastructure. President Obama emphasized this in his Cairo speech. But Palestinian failures in no way justify Israeli failure to implement their road map commitments with respect to settlements and outposts. It is time for Israel to freeze all settlement activity and dismantle the unauthorized outposts.
The writer, U.S. ambassador to Israel from 2001 to 2005, is a visiting professor of Middle East policy studies at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.