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When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to freeze construction in the settlements, he did not mention the road map. Saying the Israeli government has given the Palestinians a "dramatic gesture" leaves a much greater impression than saying, "Israel decides to uphold its contractual obligation in the Road Map." The subhead would be: "In part, and six and a half years behind schedule."

These dry facts emerge very clearly in an article by Israel Prize laureate Ruth Lapidoth and Dr. Ofra Friesel.

The comprehensive article, "Reflections on the Roadmap and the Annapolis Joint Understanding," appears in the new issue of The Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs. In the article, Friesel and Lapidoth, a professor of international law at Bar-Ilan University, analyze the road map. After clarifying the legal meaning of this document, which the government approved in May 2003, they delve into the "joint understanding" that is the November 2007 Annapolis Declaration. From the moment that Israel and the PLO/Palestinian Authority approved these two documents, they became binding bilateral agreements, state the authors. .

They tear into the 14 "reservations" the Sharon government included in its decision to approve the road map. Among other things, the government expressed reservations about any reference to the Arab peace initiative, based on the 1967 lines. The decision states, "The plan will be implemented in accordance with the 14 comments Israel submitted to the Americans."

In the official correspondence with the United States, Israel used the term "comments." Later on, in the Knesset hearings and the professional discourse, the term "reservations" was used.

The researchers say this is not just a sematic matter. Reservations over a bilateral agreement are basically a rejection of the text, and a request for a new text. Consequently, reservations are relevant only to multilateral agreements. The Israeli government did not change the text; it only sought and received an American promise to "seriously and fully address" the 14 comments when the road map is implemented. The article notes that no comment addressed freezing construction in the settlements and evacuating outposts. On the contrary, at the end of the section in which the government commented that "settlement in Judea and Samaria will not be discussed," it specifically states "except for a freeze on settlements and illegal outposts."

It did not state "for 10 months only, and not including East Jerusalem."

In the same comment, the Sharon government also stated, "There will be no discussion of issues relating to the final status arrangement." The "joint understanding" at the Annapolis Conference cancelled this section. The text calls for immediately opening negotiations on the core issues. Prime minister Ehud Olmert declared that he would make an effort to complete the final status agreement by the end of 2008.

Lapidoth and Friesel reject the argument by parties including Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman that the Annapolis understanding is not binding, because the government did not approve it. They note that the Annapolis text was intended to "pave the way to implement the road map, which expired at the end of 2006. Since the map already had been approved by the government, it did not need to vote on the Annapolis document, legally speaking.

More importantly, the researchers said, international law considers the Annapolis understanding to be a binding document, since it was approved by the prime minister. Prime ministers and even foreign ministers are considered representatives of their countries, and when they reach agreements, it binds their countries (unless they violated a domestic law).

The two legal scholars agree that the Annapolis understanding complements the road map, and that these two documents can contribute to peace efforts.

New ambassador needed

Instead of arguing over the two senior appointments in New York - UN ambassador and consul general - the prime minister and foreign minister should find a new ambassador to Washington. In his brief term, Michael Oren, the man Netanyahu assigned to fill the most important diplomatic post in the world, has managed to clash with a broad swath of the Jewish community. In a speech at a conference by the association of Conservative synagogues two weeks ago, Oren called the peace lobby J Street "a problem" and "beyond the mainstream."

Shortly after, he skipped a conference hosted by J Street, which was attended by U.S. President Barack Obama's national security adviser and several elected officials, because J Street objects to the policies of all of Israel's governments.

The ambassador told participants at the Conservative conference that God Almighty is the reason why the remnants of the Jewish people rose up from the ashes of the Holocaust and returned to their land.

This is not the first time that Oren has stuck his nose where it does not belong. After the Oslo Accords were signed, Oren, then the American Jewish Committee's representative in Israel, distributed a document calling for a centrist bloc headed by Ehud Barak (then chief of staff) and MK Benny Begin as a counterweight to Yitzhak Rabin, who was being led by the left and Yossi Beilin, and to Benjamin Netanyahu, who was being led by the radical right. The American Jewish Committee's president, Al Moses, said he did not agree with his representative's remarks. Oren stepped down soon afterward. Incidentally, this short interval was omitted from the ambassador's official resume.