On April 14, 2004, approximately one year before the Gaza withdrawal, a letter was sent to then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon by then-President George W. Bush, which stated:
“As part of a final peace settlement, Israel must have secure and recognized borders, which should emerge from negotiations between the parties in accordance with UNSC Resolutions 242 and 338. 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.”
The reason why I bring this up now is not because there are any new land withdrawals around major existing Israeli population centers being currently contemplated. The reason that I am bringing this up is that this “iron clad assurance” was quickly forgotten as soon as Bush closed the White House door, even before President Barack Obama had a chance to measure the windows for drapes.
In the beginning of Obama’s first administration, I was present at a Washington forum where I asked Dennis Ross, then part of the Obama administration, about this understanding. He responded, “That agreement no longer holds. It sunsetted when Bush left office.” Period. End of story.
As soon as Obama assumed office, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton began describing the settlements as “illegitimate,” saying “I think it is absolutely clear to say, number one, that it’s been American policy for many years that settlements were illegitimate.”
This fact was strongly refuted in a June 26, 2009 Wall Street Journal article by Elliott Abrams, who served in President George W. Bush’s National Security Council. He wrote, “On settlements, we also agreed on principles that would permit some continuing growth.”
It should also be noted that this agreement was ratified by both the House and the Senate, in its passage of House Congressional Resolution 460, which was passed concurrently in the Senate by an overwhelming majority of members of both chambers.
This is particularly relevant now, because last week Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), along with 46 of his Republican colleagues, sent a letter to the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran explaining how our constitution works. To be binding, an international treaty requires ratification of two-thirds of the Senate. A congressional-executive agreement requires a majority vote in the House and either a majority vote or a three-fifths majority vote in the Senate (depending on Senate rules). An agreement with no Congressional majority support is merely an executive agreement.
Unfortunately, this letter, which stated the laws of our constitution, was met with nothing short of apoplexy by members of the Obama administration and their cheerleaders in the Democratic Party.
Vice President Joe Biden issued a formal statement of outrage, saying: “I served in the United States Senate for 36 years. I deeply believe in its traditions, in its value as an institution, and in its indispensable constitutional role in the conduct of our foreign policy. The letter sent on March 9 by 47 Republican Senators to the Islamic Republic of Iran, expressly designed to undercut a sitting president in the midst of sensitive international negotiations, is beneath the dignity of an institution I revere.”
Secretary of State John Kerry, when testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Islamic State group on Wednesday, engaged in a heated exchange with Senate committee members, saying his reaction to the letter was “utter disbelief” and calling it a breach of “more than two centuries of precedent.”
Kerry seems to have conveniently forgotten a few small details, however.
When Obama was a senator in 2008, he sent a personal representative, Ambassador William G. Miller, to Tehran to encourage the Islamic republic not to enter into any agreement with the outgoing Bush administration. Why? Because negotiations with the Obama administration would be much more amicable.
Another small detail that seems to have evaded Kerry’s memory is that in 1985, when he was a Democratic senator from Massachusetts, Kerry travelled together with Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, also a Democrat, to meet with Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua. They openly sought to work with the communist Sandinistas, which was in direct opposition to the policies of then-President Ronald Reagan.
In fact, there are numerous other examples of instances where congressmen — of both political parties — have acted in a way similar to Senator Cotton and his 46 colleagues.
Perhaps the most disgraceful example is documented by Hassan Dai, a human rights activist and Iranian dissident. Dai has courageously exposed the National Iranian American Council as being a pro-Iranian regime lobby. He has documented the many times that then-Iranian U.N. Ambassador and current Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, together with NIAC head Trita Parsi, met with members of Congress to exploit their foreign policy differences with then-President George W. Bush.
Parsi tried to deny the truth of these allegations. He tried, unsuccessfully, to sue Hassan Dai for defamation, but the suit was dropped and NIAC had to pay damages to Mr. Dai. During the lawsuit, however, a series of very revealing emails from NIAC were released that explained the extent of the collaboration with the Iranian regime. One email exchange, for example, shows how in 2006, Zarif gave a copy of a white paper outlining the Iranian American offer for a “grand bargain” to Parsi. That paper was subsequently released to the press and used to argue that Iran was ready for diplomacy. Just a few weeks later, Parsi launched something which he titled the “Iran Negotiation Project.” This was when he started to arrange for meetings between himself, members of Congress who opposed Bush’s policy on Iran, and Zarif.
Although the New York Daily News has recklessly used the word “traitors” to characterize the 47 senators who simply wrote the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran to inform them about how our constitution is set up, it would have been a great deal more judicious to have reserved this word for the Zarif-Parsi meetings with members of Congress. Let us not forget that these members of Congress were meeting with Parsi and Zarif at exactly the same time in history when our U.S servicemen were being killed and maimed in Iraq and Afghanistan by IEDs made in the Islamic Republic of Iran, and while Iran was being classified by the State Department as the world’s number one supporter and funder of global terrorism.
Actually, the 47 senators are great patriots who have a keen understanding of the U.S. Constitution. They understand that there are supposed to be three equal branches of government — executive, legislative and judicial. They also understand that Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution says that all binding treaties require a relationship between the executive branch and the legislative branch that includes Senate “advice and consent.” Finally, they firmly understand that they have been sidelined out of the Iran negotiations, and that the United States, under Obama, might well be entering into a very perilous agreement with the Islamic Republic of Iran that will give the Iranians license from the international community to enter into the circle of nations possessing nuclear weapons. And these senators know that if the Obama administration has its way, they will not be informed of the details of the agreement until it is a fait accompli.
And that would be disastrous for the region and for all freedom-loving citizens of the world.
Sarah N. Stern is founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth, a pro-Israel and pro-American think tank and policy shop in Washington.
Originally published at Israel Hayom: https://www.israelhayom.com/site/newsletter_opinion.php?id=11953
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