Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday that he had reached a written agreement with the Obama administration according to which Israel would not be required to return to the 1967 borders in any future peace deal with the Palestinians. In addition, any future peace talks would take into account established "realities on the ground" - a term generally used in reference to Israel's large settlement blocs of Ariel, Maale Adumim and Gush Etzion.
Netanyahu's statements would mean an effective American ratification of a letter sent in 2004 by former U.S. President George W. Bush to former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon which guaranteed that the settlement blocs would remain a part of Israel in any future peace agreement with the Palestinians. The current administration, under President Barack Obama, has not publicly endorsed Bush's letter to Sharon. In 2009, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said there was no acknowledgment of any such agreement in the official negotiating record between Israel and the Bush administration. "There is no memorialization of any informal and oral agreements. If they did occur, which of course people say they did, they did not become part of the official position of the U.S. government," Clinton said.
The current U.S. administration has recently made it clear to Israel that Obama's position is in line with the second speech he delivered at the AIPAC conference in May 2011 -- in which he clarified that the U.S. believes negotiations should be based on 1967 borders with mutually agreed land swaps and not the borders that existed on June 4, 1967 -- and not his first speech, to which Netanyahu reacted angrily.
The Prime Minister's Office now views the agreement with the Obama Administration as an achievement.
The document was prepared prior to the Quartet meeting in early July, during which the Americans and Europeans tried to relaunch negotiations ahead of a unilateral Palestinian declaration of statehood at the United Nations in September. The Quartet had been hoping to issue a statement saying that negotiations would be based on the 1967 borders framework articulated in Obama's speech, together with recognition of Israel as a Jewish state -- implying that the Palestinians would forego the right of return for refugees. However, the Palestinians rejected the draft and no statement was issued.
Prime Minister's Office spokesman Gidi Shmerling clarified on Monday night that the understanding with the U.S. does not include an Israeli agreement to return to the 1967 borders. Rather, the U.S. has acknowledged that any future talks would take into consideration the changes on the ground as well as Israel's security concerns.
Meanwhile, a report Monday night on Israel's Channel 2 TV news said that Netanyahu had in fact agreed to renew negotiations with the Palestinians based on the framework of 1967 borders with land swaps. The report has been picked up by international media outlets.
“In order to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and facilitate the restarting of direct talks, Israel has been willing to accept a package that includes a formula on borders,” an Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, was quoting as saying.
These borders could be “difficult for Israel to accept,” the official added.