Dore Gold, former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations and adviser to multiple prime ministers, held a two-hour on-the-record lunch with journalists, former U.S. government officials and think-tank scholars. Gold previewed his testimony today before the House Foreign Affairs Committee and emphasized some key , if underreported, facts.
He began by debunking the mantra that at Camp David “we were never so close to peace” ( or its other incarnation — “everyone knows what the final deal will be”). Former Clinton officials and a cottage industry of peace processors seemed determined to propagate the idea that if only Bill Clinton had hung in there a few more weeks, we’d have had peace. This is false. Gold said that at a December 2000 cabinet meeting under Ehud Barak, the chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, said the deal would be “a threat to the vital interests of Israel.” Moreover, the Palestinians never gave up the right of return or the cessation of war against Israel.
Gold also hammered home the point that settlements and “land swaps” are entirely beside the point. The public debate, he said, has boiled down to “how many settlers can I fit on the head of a pin” — in other words , how to maximize the number of settlers in the smallest space. This is wrong and misguided, Gold said.
The real issue is whether the United States, its Quartet partners, the United Nations and Russia will live up to the commitment made in U.N. Resolution 242 ( which provided for “Termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force” ) and by presidents of both parties to ensure that Israel has defensible borders. The U.N. commitment to secure borders was reiterated by the Clinton administration in a January 1997 letter from then-Secretary of State Warren Christopher to the Israeli prime minister:
Mr. Prime Minister, you can be assured that the United States’ commitment to Israel’s security is ironclad and constitutes the fundamental cornerstone of our special relationship. The key element in our approach to peace, including the negotiations and implementation of agreements between Israel and its Arab partners, has always been a recognition of Israel’s security requirements. Moreover, a hallmark of U.S. policy remains our commitment to work cooperatively to seek to meet the security needs that Israel identifies. Finally, I would like to reiterate our position that Israel is entitled to secure and defensible borders, which should be directly negotiated and agreed with its neighbors.
That promise was repeated in an April 14, 2004, letter from President George W. Bush to the Israeli prime minister:
First, the United States remains committed to my vision and to its implementation as described in the roadmap. The United States will do its utmost to prevent any attempt by anyone to impose any other plan. Under the roadmap, Palestinians must undertake an immediate cessation of armed activity and all acts of violence against Israelis anywhere, and all official Palestinian institutions must end incitement against Israel. . . .
Second, there will be no security for Israelis or Palestinians until they and all states, in the region and beyond, join together to fight terrorism and dismantle terrorist organizations. The United States reiterates its steadfast commitment to Israel’s security, including secure, defensible borders, and to preserve and strengthen Israel’s capability to deter and defend itself, by itself, against any threat or possible combination of threats.
Third, Israel will retain its right to defend itself against terrorism, including to take actions against terrorist organizations. . . .
The United States is strongly committed to Israel’s security and well-being as a Jewish state. It seems clear that an agreed, just, fair and realistic framework for 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.
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. . . .
These commitments were made as part of the U.S. inducement to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to put forth the Gaza disengagement plan and to agree to withdraw some military installations and settlements in the West Bank. It was a commitment by the U.S. government that was in keeping with bipartisan U.S. policy. Moreover, Gold pointed out that this arrangement was endorsed by both houses of Congress. The House voted 407-9. In the Senate the vote was 95-3. Voting to back the April 14 letter were, among others, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.). The Obama administration has repeatedly refused to indicate whether it is repudiating or standing by that commitment. One additional note: a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood would also violate the Oslo II Interim agreement signed by the PA and Israel and witnessed by the U.S., the EU, Norway, Egypt and Jordan. (This would be pretty much the same set of characters now pressuring Israel to recognize a Palestinian state.) Article XXXI contains these provisions:
Permanent status negotiations will commence as soon as possible, but not later than May 4, 1996, between the Parties. It is understood that these negotiations shall cover remaining issues, including: Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, security arrangements, borders, relations and cooperation with other neighbors, and other issues of common interest.
Nothing in this Agreement shall prejudice or preempt the outcome of the negotiations on the permanent status to be conducted pursuant to the DOP. Neither Party shall be deemed, by virtue of having entered into this Agreement, to have renounced or waived any of its existing rights, claims or positions.
Neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent status negotiations.
What happened to those agreements?
Gold thinks there is some willful indifference to reality among U.S. and Israeli negotiators. He said, “Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] has been set on a course of unilateralism since 2009.” He explained that Abu Mazen wants recognition of the Palestinian state without recognition of Israel, without giving up the right of return and without the end of conflict. In fact, the Palestinians have been candid that “the right of return is an individual right and no Arab government or the PA [Palestinian Authority] can make that concession.”
Gold argues that any deal that does not secure Israel’s security is “politically irresponsible.” He emphasizes that to ask Israel now to make unilateral moves, when it does not know the identity of its neighbors, is “simply not serious."
So the issue remains: Will the United States insist that all parties live up to their commitments or will the United States publicly or privately push for concessions that violate U.N. resolutions, Palestinian commitments and U.S. obligations? Gold suggests that a “security-first paradigm” is required. Gold means that the Israeli military needs to determine what are defensible borders and that Israel needs to “use diplomacy to protect security.” If the Obama administration really does consider Israel’s security paramount, it should back those efforts.There is likely no final agreement in the offing, but perhaps an interim agreement on this basis is possible, Gold says.
He also points out that occupation of the Jordan Valley is essential for both Israel’s and Jordan’s security. (Otherwise, jihadists will conclude “the gates of Troy are open” and flood into the area, making Jordan a staging ground for terror.) He also reiterated that Israel must retain air rights over the West Bank in order to provide adequate warning time to “scramble the jets.”
Gold did not want to comment on the role Congress might play. However, it seems that the House Foreign Affairs Committee does have a role to play. It should consider why we are continuing to fund the Palestinian Authority while it is in breach of its obligations to negotiate with Israel and to abide by the rest of the Oslo II interim agreement (for example, “Israel and the Council shall seek to foster mutual understanding and tolerance and shall accordingly abstain from incitement, including hostile propaganda, against each other and, without derogating from the principle of freedom of expression, shall take legal measures to prevent such incitement by any organizations, groups or individuals within their jurisdiction.”) The House controls the purse strings and can certainly put that leverage to good use. Moreover, Congress can pass a resolution reminding the Obama administration of its obligations to adhere to the Christopher and Bush letters and reaffirming that a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state violates international agreements and U.S. commitments. And finally, some probing oversight can take place. The United States is a member of the Quartet, so why aren’t we using our power to block a unilateral declaration of recognition?
It goes without saying that the Obama presidency has been a disaster for Israel. But it is not too late for Israel and friends of Israel to push back and insist that the United States not violate international law.