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Land for Smoke

By Michael Freund
3/26/2005, 12:00 AM

At last, the truth has finally come out.

It was nearly a year ago that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon waved a letter from US President George W. Bush before the Israeli public, claiming that the convoluted missive signified American acceptance of Israeli “settlement blocs” in Judea and Samaria. This, the Prime Minister assured us, was a tremendous diplomatic achievement, one that justified far-reaching concessions on Israel’s part.

Well, now we know better.

As Yediot Aharonot reports:

Rice denies understandings with Israel

U.S. Secretary of State tells Washington Post there are is no agreement between Israel and the White House regarding Jewish settlement blocs 

By Yitzhak Benhorin

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called a Washington Post reporter twice Friday to clarify the American position on Jewish settlement expansion, saying Israel and the U.S. have no agreement on the matter.

The two sides are engaged in talks ahead of a possible freezing of settlement activity, Rice noted, and added the question is a complex one and has not yet been resolved.

The letter delivered by President Bush to Sharon on April 14 meant to indicate the American leader recognized certain realities, but he did not attempt to conduct negotiations on a final-status agreement, Rice said.

When Bush’s letter was publicized last year, skeptics immediately pointed out its vague language as well as its insistence that any territorial changes in a final Palestinian-Israeli settlement would have to be acceptable to “both parties” – effectively giving the Palestinians veto power over Israel retaining “settlement blocs”.

But, as is so often the case, the skeptics were dismissed with a “hush” and a wave of the hand, since no one wanted to rain on Mr. Sharon’s parade.

Smoke Now, however, after Condoleezza Rice’s clarification, it should be clear that the presidential letter of which Sharon was so proud was little more than a smokescreen – one designed to give the Prime Minister political cover for his decision to withdraw from Gaza and northern Samaria.

So in exchange for the proposed retreat, Israel will truly be receiving nothing - absolutely nothing - in return.

Except, of course, for another empty dose of diplomatic smoke.