Rice denied reports from Israeli officials -- and some U.S. officials -- that the Bush administration had struck an arrangement with Israel that would allow for some settlement growth in Palestinian areas. Israeli officials had said that the administration would allow for growth within settlements as long as additional housing units did not exceed existing construction lines. The U.S.-backed "road map" plan for peace calls for Israel to freeze settlement growth.
Rice said the "only commitment or assurance" was made last April, when Bush announced that because of "new realities on the ground" -- existing settlements in Palestinian areas -- Israel could expect to retain some settlements as part of a final peace deal. She said that since then the United States has asked Israel for more detail on its settlement activity because "there is so much information, misinformation . . . that the picture was just too confusing."
After the interview, Rice called a reporter twice to expand on her remarks on the administration's settlement policy. The administration has had "discussions about steps toward a settlement freeze," she said in one of the phone calls. "But we've never reached closure on that. It's complicated."
Meanwhile, the New York Times reports:
The ambiguities surrounding American policy were underlined Friday when a diplomatic furor erupted over remarks reportedly made by the American ambassador to Israel, Daniel C. Kurtzer, in an off-the-record session nearly a month ago with new Israeli Foreign Ministry employees.
According to the newspaper Yediot Aharonot, which was leaked a copy of notes taken at the meeting, Mr. Kurtzer said Washington had never reached an understanding with Israel that would let it keep its large settlement blocks in the West Bank. The newspaper also quoted him as saying he expected Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government to fall before completing its term in November 2006.
Mr. Kurtzer angrily denied the Yediot story on Friday, saying he was misquoted and misunderstood. "What I tried to explain to them is exactly what U.S. policy is," he told Israeli radio and television on Friday. "And U.S. policy is the support that the president has given for the retention by Israel of major Israeli population centers as an outcome of negotiations."
Mr. Sharon's office said it believed that Mr. Kurtzer had been misquoted.
US firmly backs Israel's right to keep large settlement blocs (AFP)
U.S. Reiterates Support for Israel Plan (AP)
There is also a gem in the recent transcript of the State Dept press conference:
QUESTION: Do the settlements -- either they do or they don't violate the roadmap that was signed in 2003. It seems like a simple question and you can't give us an answer.
MR. ERELI: It's not.
QUESTION: It's not a simple question?
MR. ERELI: No.
QUESTION: Why not?
MR. ERELI: Because, as I said yesterday, there are facts and details and, I think, further information that we need in order to give you a considered opinion on the subject.
QUESTION: Well, I know you said that you weren't going to discuss the details of the meeting, but can you tell us if they did get these answers at the meeting with Sharon?
MR. ERELI: I can tell you that the issue was raised, that I think there was a -- the issue was raised. They've talked about it with the Israelis. They're going to talk about it with the Palestinians. They're going to focus, as I said before, on the importance of both sides taking steps that reinforce peacemaking efforts, including in this area, and that I think the focus of what they're trying to do, the focus of what we're all trying to do, is to make sure that the parameters established by the roadmap are respected and that, as I said before, the actions of both sides, or the actions of each side, reinforces the efforts of the other side to make peace. And that's in the context of settlement activity, it's in the context of action to stop terror, it's in the context of cooperation to take advantage of the opportunity presented by Gaza withdrawal. It deals with all these aspects of the roadmap.
QUESTION: Does the U.S. believe that the Israelis are respecting all parameters of the roadmap?
MR. ERELI: I think I've just exhausted what I can tell you on this subject.
The "roadmap" and US policy towards Israel is a sick joke. No wonder administration officials and Rice herself have to constantly correct themselves. The Palestinians will continue their attacks on the settlements after whatever sham agreement is imposed, and they'll be right to.