Here’s how you know Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu left a bad first impression with the Obama administration. Asked in an ABC News interview yesterday about reports that his allies floated saying that the Bush administration had secretly promised Israel that it could expand settlement construction in the West Bank, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton dismissed the idea that the Obama administration would be at all bound by any such private accord:
CLINTON: …[T]he fact is that the road map, which was agreed to officially, adopted by the Israeli government, said something very clear about settlements.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But they say that includes an understanding for natural growth inside the settlements.
CLINTON: Well, that was an understanding that was entered into, so far as we are told, orally. That was never made a part of the official record of the negotiations as it was passed on to our administration. No one in the Bush administration said to anyone that we can find in our administration…
STEPHANOPOULOS: Not Elliot Abrams? He wrote about that.
CLINTON: Nobody in a position of authority at the time that the Obama administration came into office said anything about it. And, in fact, there’s also a record that President Bush contradicted even that oral agreement.
But the fact is that the road map, which was agreed to officially, adopted by the Israeli government, said something very clear about settlements.
According to The New York Times, Netanyahu is going to deliver the first major speech on peace with the Palestinians and the Arab world of his fledgling tenure this week. It would be astonishing if he repudiates any of his longstanding beliefs in the speech, since he’s got the viability of his right-wing coalition to consider. But the speech will provide an index of how the Obama administration’s so-far-firm rejection of settlement expansion has registered with him, and how he publicly feels the need to gesture to an American ally that appears willing to openly pressure him in the name of peace.