Revelations are emerging from the ping-pong of news developments as revelations in the Israeli media spur publication of reports by American correspondents based in Israel which are in turn picked up by the Israeli media.
At the end of May, according to the Israeli media, there were reportedly talks in London between Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor, attorney Yitzhak Molcho [who apparently is Netanyahu’s man in charge of Palestinian “matters”], National Security Advisor Uzi Arad and the Chief of Staff of the Israeli Ministry of Defense Mike Herzog — and the U.S. special envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell.
One Israeli publication (I think it was Haaretz, but — sorry — I lost the reference!!) reported last week that the U.S. Special Envoy for the Middle East George Mitchell “emphasized that the U.S. does not accept the concept of ‘natural growth’ for the settlements. ‘We did not hear from the Bush administration about any of these so-called understandings with Israel on the settlements – all of which were supposedly oral understandings between different people every time’, said one senior American official. ‘But we’ve never heard a thing about them – they certainly weren’t formal agreements between our governments. The Israelis want us to commit to oral understandings we have never heard about, but at the same time they are not willing to commit to written agreements their government has signed, like the road map and commitment to the two-state solution’. The disagreement over the understandings concerning the settlements produced an embarrassing encounter in London last week during a meeting between Mitchell, Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor and a number of Netanyahu’s advisers. At the meeting, the Israelis claimed there was a letter between former president George W. Bush and former prime minister Ariel Sharon stating that the settlement blocs would remain in Israeli hands, so construction is permitted there. Mitchell showed the Israelis that one of the letter’s sections discusses the principle of two states for two peoples. ‘That is also written in the letter – do you agree to that?’ he asked”.
Then, the NY Times correspondent in Jerusalem, Ethan Bronner, reported that “Senior Israeli officials expressed irritation on Wednesday that President Obama had declined to acknowledge what they called clear understandings with the Bush administration that allowed Israel to build West Bank settlement housing within certain guidelines while still publicly claiming to honor a settlement ‘freeze’ … The Israeli officials said that repeated and ongoing discussions with Bush officials starting in late 2002 gave unambiguous permission to build within the boundaries of certain settlement blocs as long as no new land was expropriated, no special economic incentives were offered to move to settlements and no new settlements were built”. The NYTimes reported that an Israeli official who asked for anonymity said that “When Israel signed onto the so-called roadmap for a two-state solution in 2003, which says its government ‘freezes all settlement activity (including natural growth of settlements)’ … it was after a detailed discussion with Bush officials that laid out those explicit limits. ‘Not everything is written down’, said one of the officials. He and others said that Israel agreed both to the roadmap and to move ahead with the removal of settlements and soldiers from Gaza in 2005 on the understanding that settlement growth could continue”.
The NYTimes checked this with American officials and former officials, and then reported that “a senior official in the Bush administration disagreed, calling the Israeli characterization ‘an overstatement’. ‘There was never an agreement to accept natural growth’, the official said Tuesday, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the matter. ‘There was an effort to explore what natural growth would mean, but we weren’t able to reach agreement on that’. ..