Released Clinton e-mail reignites question whether Obama reneged on Bush settlement commitments

Issue was thrust into into the headlines in 2009 because of the Obama administration's demand for a complete settlement freeze.

Hillary Clinton (L) and US President Barack Obama (R) (photo credit: REUTERS)
Hillary Clinton (L) and US President Barack Obama (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice told her successor Hillary Clinton there was no agreement between Israel and the US regarding where settlement construction was permitted, according to an email made public by the State Department last week.
Bloomberg columnist Eli Lake reported Monday that the email, part of the disclosure of Clinton’s personal emails stored on a private server, was dated June 7, 2009, and sent by Clinton to two aides.
The subject line of the email was “settlements,” and it read, “Condi Rice called to tell me I was on strong ground, saying what I did about there being no agreement between the Bush admin[istration] and Israel.”
Whether the Bush administration reached informal agreements with the Sharon government that it could build inside the construction lines of established settlements has long been a point of contention.
The issue was thrust into the headlines in 2009 because of the Obama administration’s demand for a complete settlement freeze and Israel’s counter claim that by making this demand the Obama administration essentially was reneging on commitments given to Israel under the previous administration.
Former ambassador Michael Oren, in his recent book, Ally: My Journey Across the American- Israeli Divide, said the Obama administration did walk back commitments made by the Bush administration and that this marked the “first time in the history of the US-Israel alliance” that the White House “denied the validity of a previous presidential commitment.”
Clinton, in a 2009 press conference in Washington with then foreign minister Avigdor Liberman, said 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. Our former ambassador Dan Kurtzer has written an op-ed that appeared in the last few days that lays out our position on that.”
Clinton’s’ press conference, Lake noted, took place 10 days after she sent the email about Rice.
Kurtzer, the US ambassador to Israel from 2001-2005, wrote an op-ed at the time in The Washington Post arguing that there were no understandings on settlement growth between the US and Israel.
According to Kurtzer, Israel maintained that draft understandings discussed in 2003 between former prime minister Ariel Sharon and US deputy national security adviser Stephen Hadley, as well as president George W.
Bush’s April 14, 2004, letter to Sharon, and a letter from Sharon’s top aide Dov Weissglas to Rice, constituted a “formal understanding in which the United States accepted continuing Israeli building within the ‘construction line’ of settlements.” However, Kurtzer argued, there was no such understanding.
But another senior member of the Bush administration, Elliott Abrams, who was the deputy national security adviser, has a different recollection, arguing in two op-ed pieces he wrote in 2009 that “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.”
Abrams, who was present in those 2003 meetings with Sharon, wrote that, “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.”
“On settlements,” he wrote, “we also agreed on principles that would permit some continuing growth.”