It’s called an Executive Agreement or Memorandum of Understanding. This is an exchange between two heads of state in which there is a quid pro quo — each promises to deliver something. There is precedent within the courts for such agreements to be binding. They are serious matters.
During the course of the American administrations of Clinton and Bush Jr. there were a number of such agreements with Israeli governments, somehow involving the issue of settlements. Generally speaking, there was an understanding on the American side that we would retain major settlement blocs in any future agreement with the Palestinians, but in the interim, while we could build inside the parameters of those settlements, we would not build beyond their borders or start new settlements.
The most famous (or is it now infamous?) of these exchanges involves the letters between PM Sharon and President Bush on April 14, 2004. Sharon, for his part, described his plan for withdrawal (“disengagement.”).
And Bush wrote in his letter that:
“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.”
It was on the basis of this that Sharon moved ahead with his plans for leaving Gaza. We may leave there, he told the nation, but look, we will never be expected to leave Judea and Samaria and pull out our people.
In the same vein, it was because of earlier understandings that the Israeli government accepted, albeit tentatively, the Road Map.
But now along comes the arrogant Barack Obama, who declares that he is not bound by these prior agreements. He is above it all and can do things according to his own rules, you see. A couple of day ago he made a speech in which he said, essentially, that former administrations lied to us, but now he’s going to be tough and tell us the truth.
This is a serious problem, not just for us, but for all nations who deal with the US. When the president declares himself not bound by prior agreements, it is deeply troubling and renders both the president and the government he heads untrustworthy. This is not how a democracy is supposed to operate.
Please, see the transcript of a State Department press conference from two days ago, and the way in which spokesman Robert Wood absolutely refuses to answer a journalist’s straight question regarding US obligations inherent in the Bush letter to Sharon. (Towards the end of the conference.)
This is at the core of the battle now, regarding Obama’s demand that we stop all building, even for natural growth, in the settlements. We’ve had the American rug pulled out from under us.
What makes it doubly an affront, however, is that Obama is trying to claim that WE have obligations according to prior agreements.
Bibi is holding fast with regard to not freezing settlements, and the government is angered. There is a feeling, at least in certain parts of the Likud and the nationalist parties, that Obama has simply gone too far.
Very briefly, I want to return to the issue of outposts. I’ve described a number of legal complications with regard to what makes an outpost illegal — in terms of what land it’s built on, what permits it received, etc.
But here’s another factor. The understanding between us and America, broadly, was that we would keep the major settlement blocs and had a right to build inside of them, but we would not build new settlements beyond a certain time period. But the outposts, at least in some instances, represent an attempt to do just that.
Ideologically, this may be great. But there must be a recognition regarding what our commitments may have been in this regard.
This does not apply across the board. Some outposts are several years old, some can be incorporated as part of existing settlements. In some instances, as with the synagogue on the road to Hebron, referring to what is on the ground as an outpost is a bit of a stretch.
At any rate, a very strong case can be made now for simply saying the deal is off. Maybe we did have a commitment regarding no outposts. But if the other party no longer honors the understanding that we keep major settlements?
I would say a better case can be made now for not dismantling those outposts. Barak has been holding meetings in Washington, and the word is that they are tense.
Tomorrow Obama steps to the mike in Cairo. I won’t speculate unduly regarding what I expect. In the briefest of terms, I would predict a broad outline of an approach, with effort to ingratiate himself with the Muslim world that we will find mind-blowing.
Some incredible stuff is coming into my mailbox, indicating just how Obama is playing it.
A NY Times blog yesterday describes an interview that Obama gave in preparation for his trip with Laura Haim on Canal Plus, a French television station:
The president said the United States and other parts of the Western world “have to educate ourselves more effectively on Islam.”
“And one of the points I want to make is, is that if you actually took the number of Muslim Americans, we’d be one of the largest Muslim countries in the world.”
One of the largest Muslim countries in the world? He’s getting a bit carried away, isn’t he?
From ABC News Senior White House Correspondent Jake Tapper: “The Emergence of President Obama’s Muslim Roots.”
During the campaign, writes Tapper, Obama emphasized his Christian identity. But now there’s a different tune.
“During a conference call in preparation for President Obama’s trip to Cairo…deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications Denis McDonough said ‘the President himself experienced Islam on three continents before he was able to — or before he’s been able to visit, really, the heart of the Islamic world — you know, growing up in Indonesia, having a Muslim father — obviously Muslim Americans (are) a key part of Illinois and Chicago.'”
Muslim Americans are a key part of Chicago (whence hails Obama)?
I don’t know about you, but this sort of makes me gag. It’s terribly transparent. It’s stretching. I suspect (is this wishful thinking?) that he’s going to stretch so hard he loses balance and ultimately falls on his face.