While in Washington, Netanyahu argued that Israel already dismantled settlements in the Gaza Strip, going beyond the road map, and was rewarded with the takeover of Gaza by the Hamas militant group and hundreds of rockets raining on Israeli towns, Israeli sources said. Still, shortly after he returned to Israel, the government tore down an unauthorized outpost, Maoz Esther. Israel is committed under the road map to remove about 26 such outposts, typically small groups of rudimentary structures with a few families. Settlers began rebuilding Maoz Esther almost immediately.
Netanyahu spokesman Mark Regev said there are no plans for a full settlement freeze. "The issue of settlements is a final status issue, and until there are final status arrangements, it would not be fair to kill normal life inside existing communities," he said.
Regev said the Israeli government is relying on "understandings" between former president George W. Bush and former prime minister Ariel Sharon that some of the larger settlements in the occupied West Bank would ultimately become part of Israel, codified in a letter that Bush gave to Sharon in 2004. In an interview with The Washington Post last year, Sharon aide Dov Weissglas said that in 2005, when Sharon was poised to remove settlers from Gaza, the Bush administration arrived at a secret agreement -- not disclosed to the Palestinians -- that Israel could add homes in settlements it expected to keep, as long as the construction was dictated by market demand, not subsidies.
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."
Regev said Israeli and U.S. negotiators are discussing the degree to which the terms of the 2004 letter will apply under the new administration, but U.S. officials indicated that Obama wants to move beyond the 2004 letter and hold Israel to its commitments under the road map. "The bottom line is we expect all the parties in the region to honor their commitments, and for the Israelis, that means a stop to settlements, as the president said," a senior administration official said.
So to recap President Bush four years ago entered into a secret agreement with Israel with no guidance from nor connsultation with Congress that was in direct conflict with his public pronouncements of being serious about peace in the Middle East. Thankfully so far President Obama has shown that he is indeed serioous about a two state solution between Israel in Palestine and he has pressed Bibi Netanyahu on halting the settlements as have members of the leadership in Congress, something that hasn’t happened in the past. But that doesn't change the fact that while we were fighting a war in Iraq that many in the Middle East felt was a war against Islam, here was our neocon President unilaterally giving concessions to Israel over land he had absolutely no right to grant them. Who in the hell in his Administration recommended that letter? Was it Colin Powell? Condi Rice? Dick Cheney? What possible benefit would have ever come from such an arrangement?
I think by now most of us realize that one of the major factors threatening our national security is continued unrest between Israel and Palestine and yet Bush effectively insured that not only would that unrest continue, it would probably get worse as the settlements keep expanding. Not only that he probably did more to undermine the more moderate Abbas leader and usher in Hamas just with that one “secret” agreement. Hell is it even legal for President Bush to enter into such an arrangement all on his own? That’s what the hell I want to know. Now lets be real here, Presidents of this country have a long history of allowing Israel more latitude than any of our other “allies” but what Bush did, in my opinion, went way beyond the pale. He had Condi Rice going to promote the “Annapolis” agreements all throughout the Middle East during his second term, knowing full well he already had undermiined those agreements all on his own. And now any road to a true lasting two state solution is made even more complicated than before. Tell me why any Arab countries would trust the US to be an honest broker in these negotiations now after hearing about this secret agreement.