'U.S. Angered by Claim That New Building at E-1 Aimed at Obama, Not Palestinians'

Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Kurtzer says Washington miffed by background briefing by Israeli official that tied E-1 announcement to Obama’s refusal to confirm 2004 Bush-Sharon letter.

Chemi Shalev
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The U.S. Administration intensified criticism of Israel’s decision to proceed with construction at the E-1 site near Ma'ale Adumim in response to indications that the move was meant to “retaliate” against U.S. President Barack Obama for his refusal to endorse the 2004 Sharon-Bush letter on settlement blocs.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Kurtzer told Haaretz on Monday that the Administration was angered by a background briefing in which an Israeli official was quoted as saying Israel is not bound by its previous agreement to refrain from building in E-1 (as reported by Laura Rozen in al-Monitor) and that the reason was the Obama Administration’s refusal to reaffirm Bush’s 2004 letter.

“What that suggests to Washington is that Jerusalem was waiting for an opportunity to do this, that it was designed to provoke anger in the Administration, and that they picked what they thought was a convenient moment,” Kurtzer said. “It was a low blow."

Kurtzer, now a Professor of Middle East Policy Studies at Princeton University and editor of a new book entitled “Pathways to Peace: America and The Arab-Israeli Public” published by Palgrave Macmillan, said “Israel could have explained that E-1 was just in the planning stages but this background briefing indicated that it was a twofer as far as Israel was concerned: We will take $100 million from the Palestinians to pay the electricity bill and we will get back at you because you didn’t reaffirm the letter.

“So this was something they had wanted to do for four years. It wasn’t just retribution at the UN, it was retribution at the U.S. as well,” Kurtzer said.

The April 14, 2004 letter from then President Bush to then Prime Minister Sharon, part of an exchange of letters between the two in advance of the Israeli disengagement from Gaza, contained a clause that Israel views as U.S. support for its demand to hold on to the “settlement blocs” in the West Bank.

“In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion. It is realistic to expect that any final status agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities,” Bush’s letter noted.

Israel failed in its efforts to convince the incoming Obama Administration to reaffirm the letter and to have it serve as a basis for the American position on the delineation of borders in any final status Israeli-Palestinian agreement. This lingering point of friction between the two countries developed into open confrontation in the wake of Obama’s May 19, 2011 speech in which he said that “The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.”

U.S. President Barack Obama and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.Credit: Reuters
A camel grazing on a hill in the E-1 area overlooking the settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim.Credit: Reuters