Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton stated Sunday that the Obama administration would not be bound by informal agreements made during the Bush era that gave Israelis more latitude on Jewish settlements in the West Bank. "Well, that was an understanding that was entered into, so far as we are told, orally," she said on ABC's "This Week." "That was never made a part of the official record of the negotiations as it was passed on to our administration."The issue of Israeli settlements has been given fresh momentum recently by Mr. Obama's speech in Cairo, as well as comments by Secretary Clinton that Obama "wants to see a stop to settlements: not some settlements, not outposts, not natural-growth exceptions."Israeli officials have countered that the Bush administration had unofficial agreements with Israel to allow for certain types of growth. In rejecting any such agreements, Clinton reiterated the administration's stance that settlements in the West Bank must be prevented from growing further.
"The fact is that the road map, which was agreed to officially, adopted by the Israeli government, said something very clear about settlements," she said, referring to the 2003 road map for peace, which freezes all settlement activity."So I think that what the president is doing is saying, 'Look, everybody should comply with the obligations you've already committed to,'" she added.
This would be a departure from past US policy, which traditionally gave Israel a fair amount of leeway regarding West Bank settlements, according to a column in Foreign Policy. President Obama's current set of advisers sees the settlements issue as perhaps the most significant stumbling block to any future peace deal, the article adds.
So far, Israel is refusing to back down.
Israeli Transport Minister Yisrael Katz said the government would continue to build in existing settlements in the West Bank.
"We are not building new settlements, but we insist on the continuation of building within existing settlements," he told AFP. "I believe the Americans will respect the commitments that they've given us in the past in writing and orally."
Critics of Obama claim that allowing natural growth within the settlements is a reasonable compromise. They add that the Obama administration has been tougher on the Israelis than it has been on the Palestinian Authority.
Again, Clinton rejected such assertions: "We've made it very clear to [Palestinian Authority] President Abbas what we expect from him, as well."
The interview comes as many in Israel fear that their country is in danger of losing its special relationship with the United States. Various reports have suggested that the Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could fall if the US forces him to take a hard line on West Bank settlements.
But under pressure from Washington, Mr. Netanyahu is set to reveal his plans for the future of the peace process next week.
Clinton sought to reassure Israel of US support Sunday: "We have to do our very best to reassure Israel, to demonstrate our commitment to Israel's security, that the bonds we have are unshakeable and durable."