Hillary Clinton has rejected claims that the Bush administration had made a secret pact with Israel granting US support for the expansion of West Bank settlements. (Photo: AP)
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton forcefully rejected yesterday Israeli claims that the Bush administration had secretly agreed to expanding Jewish settlements on the West Bank, deepening the impasse between the two countries.
"We have the negotiating record, that is the official record, that was turned over to the Obama administration by the outgoing Bush administration," Clinton told reporters after meeting with her Turkish counterpart in Washington. "There is no memorialization of any informal and oral agreements."
President Obama in recent weeks has pushed Israel to halt settlement growth, including expansion that results from population growth, on the grounds that it violates commitments made by Israel in the 2003 "road map" peace plan. Israeli officials have protested, saying that they had reached a series of understandings with Bush administration officials - some written, some spoken - under which growth was permitted under certain conditions.
The Washington Post documented some of those understandings last year, quoting Dov Weissglas, one of the Israeli negotiators; at the time, the Bush White House insisted that no such understanding existed. But last week former White House aide Elliott Abrams acknowledged that there had been unwritten understandings between Washington and Jerusalem.
Weissglas detailed this week in an opinion article for the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot some of the talks, though he noted that "the Americans completely denied the existence of such understandings."
If such understandings were reached, "they did not become part of the official position of the United States government," Clinton said. "And there are contrary documents that suggest that they were not to be viewed as in any way contradicting the obligations that Israel undertook pursuant to the road map. And those obligations are very clear."
The peace plan plainly states that, in the first phase, Israel "freezes all settlement activity (including natural growth of settlements)." The Israeli government in 2003 accepted the plan "with reservations," including on settlements, and the Bush administration issued a statement saying it agreed that "these are real concerns" and that it would "address them fully and seriously in the implementation" of the plan.