JERUSALEM – The U.S. has denied a claim, used by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to justify plans to withdraw Jewish settlements from Gaza this summer, that the Bush administration has reached an agreement with Israel to allow Jewish settlements to remain in the West Bank, WorldNetDaily has learned.

Sharon said Tuesday, in response to a journalist’s question, that he agreed to pull soldiers and settlers from Gaza because of assurances from President Bush that large settlements in the West Bank would remain part of the Jewish state.

Sharon, speaking to reporters after giving his annual address to the foreign press corps, said Bush supported the concept of a final peace agreement in which Israel would retain land in the West Bank and not accept Palestinian refugees if the Jewish state carried out the Gaza withdrawal.

“I don’t think that we made compromise or concessions without getting anything in return,” Sharon said. “In the agreement between Bush and myself we [received] tremendous achievements that Israel never had since its establishment.”

But an e-mail obtained by WND from Paul Patin, the press attaché for the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, flatly denied Sharon’s claim.

Patin was responding yesterday to a message received from David Bedein, director of the Israel Resource News Agency, a media firm based in Jerusalem, asking, “The Israeli PM declared… that the government of Israel has reached an agreement with the U.S. government to allow settlement blocs to remain in Judea and Samaria. Can the U.S. government confirm such an agreement?”

Pattin answered, “No.”

In April, Bush sent to Sharon a formal letter discussing the Gaza withdrawal and outlining understandings between the U.S. and Israel. Before the official release of the letter, the Israeli media reported Bush had agreed to allow Israel to retain the West Bank after the Gaza withdrawal is carried out.

But the letter contained no direct promise regarding the West Bank.

Some analysts say Bush hinted about Israel keeping parts of the West Bank when he wrote, “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.” The pre-1949 borders did not include the West Bank.

Bedein told WND: “The letter made no promise about retaining the West Bank. The claims by Sharon are part of a process of misrepresenting the American government and taking advantage of a sympathetic president by twisting his words to fit Sharon’s agenda.”

Bush’s April letter also dealt with Palestinian refugees.

“It seems clear that an agreed, just, fair and realistic framework for a solution to the Palestinian issue as part of any final status agreement will need to be found through the establishment of a Palestinian state, and the settling of Palestinian refugees there, rather than in Israel,” wrote Bush.

But Bedein says, “Bush’s letter does not reject the ‘right of return’ of Arab refugees to the sovereign state of Israel. Instead, the U.S. simply encourages Palestinian Arab refugees to settle in a future Palestinian state, ‘rather than Israel.’ Bush could have said ‘only’ in a Palestinian state. He did not.”

This ran in WND on February 18th, 2005
© 2005