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May 19, 2017 1:14 pm

Top US Jewish Official: To Show America ‘Has Israel’s Back,’ Trump and Netanyahu Should Restore Bush-Sharon Understandings on Settlement Policy

avatar by Ben Cohen

Former President George W. Bush with the late Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at the White House. Photo: White House.

US President Donald Trump and the Israeli government should reaffirm the understandings on settlement policy reached by former President George W. Bush and the late Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2004, a senior American Jewish official urged on Friday.

In an email to The Algemeiner, Kenneth Jacobson — deputy national director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) — wrote that “restoring the Bush letter to Sharon supportive of settlement blocs as opposed to other settlements” — along with other confidence-building measures — would help “reestablish trust with Israeli leadership, by making clear that the US has Israel’s back.”

Trump arrives in Israel on Monday for a two-day visit as part of his first trip abroad as president, which will begin this weekend in Saudi Arabia.

The Bush-Sharon understandings, articulated in an exchange of letters between the two leaders, outlined a common vision — as Sharon expressed it in his letter of April 14, 2004 — “involving two states living side-by-side in peace and security.”

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The Trump administration, Jacobson said, should “recognize that prospects for an immediate renewal of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians are very low.” Sharon himself reached much the same conclusion in 2004, telling Bush that as “there exists no Palestinian partner with whom to advance peacefully toward a settlement … I have decided to initiate a process of gradual disengagement with the hope of reducing friction between Israelis and Palestinians.”

Among the key principles of Sharon’s initiative was an undertaking that “the State of Israel intends to relocate military installations and all Israeli villages and towns in the Gaza Strip, as well as other military installations and a small number of villages in Samaria (the northern part of the West Bank).”

In his response, Bush expressed warm support for Sharon’s plan, declaring: “Mr. Prime Minister, you have described a bold and historic initiative that can make an important contribution to peace. I commend your efforts and your courageous decision which I support. As a close friend and ally, the United States intends to work closely with you to help make it a success.”

Jacobson suggested several other measures to both enhance US-Israeli ties and aid the peace process. Trump should “make clear to both sides that strong support for Israel does not contradict, but actually strengthens, the US role as an interlocutor on both sides, with the ultimate goal of achieving a two-state solution,” he said. And Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas — who is scheduled to meet with Trump on Tuesday in Bethlehem — should be publicly called on to “condemn anti-Israel incitement and reject Palestinian violence against Israelis,” Jacobson added.

On the US-Israel security relationship, the president “should reassure Israel on the sacredness of shared intelligence,” Jacobson said. Trump has been dogged by reports this week that he allegedly shared with Russian officials sensitive Israeli intelligence concerning the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist organization.

Arab media outlets reported on Thursday, however, that the intelligence may have been Jordanian in origin, with the Israelis playing at a most a minor role in gathering it.

Other Middle East experts also weighed in on Friday on the president’s imminent trip. Writing in the New York Times, Michael Doran — a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute who served as a senior director at the National Security Council during the George W. Bush administration –opined that Trump “may come away with a legacy-cementing achievement: a Trump Doctrine for the Middle East.”

Doran argued that by departing for both Saudi Arabia and Israel “close on the heels of a meeting in Washington with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey,” Trump was “clearly signaling an appreciation” that “Saudi Arabia and Turkey…unlike the Russians and Iranians…will accept an American-dominated order.

“He must now build on that fact to develop a Trump Doctrine, based on shoring up traditional allies against Iran,” Doran concluded.

Speaking on a conference call organized by The Israel Project on Friday, Jonathan Schanzer — a Middle East expert at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD) think tank — painted an optimistic picture of the mood in Israel on the eve of Trump’s arrival.

Based on conversations with officials of both countries, Schanzer said it was clear that the US and Israel were “in lockstep, that they really feel they are making progress,” citing, as an example, ongoing concerns about Iran. “There is very little difference of opinion over the way the Trump administration is approaching the threats from Iran to the Middle East,” according to Schanzer.

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