From THE JERUSALEM POST, Jun. 2, 2009, by Naomi Chazan:
.. US President Barack Obama dropped in unannounced on Defense Minister Ehud Barak while he was meeting National Security Adviser James Jones in the White House on Tuesday.... it came following Obama's call Monday for a halt to all settlement construction, including for "natural growth." That was the first time Obama himself, and not an adviser or Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, had included "natural growth" in the settlement freeze.
...Obama's visit was seen as particularly meaningful, as it came just a few hours before he was to set off for Saudi Arabia and then Egypt, and following several statements criticizing Israel for its settlement policy.
... Barak's role is particularly key, as he represents the left flank of Netanyahu's government and has a warmer following in Washington than some of his fellow coalition members, even as he has articulated a position supporting the prime minister's assertion that natural growth must continue.
The settlement issue was believed to have been one of the focuses of Barak's discussion with Jones. Following the meeting, Barak issued a statement saying that "the intimacy, openness and joint interests of Israel and the US are a foundation of Israeli policy, both in facing threats and making peace."
Barak's statement, however, could not camouflage deep differences that have been emerging over the settlement issue.
Officials in the Prime Minister's Office on Tuesday said that understandings on settlement construction with the US had formed the basis of Israel's acceptance of the road map in 2003 and the adoption of the disengagement plan in 2005, firing back at Washington for its demand for a settlement freeze that would include natural growth.
The implication of the officials' comments were clear: that if the US was changing its understandings on the settlements, it was undermining the foundations of the road map and was in essence reneging on understandings that were an essential part of Israel's decision to leave the Gaza Strip.
...While Israel committed itself not to build new settlements and to address the unauthorized outposts, there was an effort to allow for normal life in existing communities, especially those in the large settlement blocs that will definitely stay part of Israel in any final-status agreement."
..."On the basis of these understandings, the government accepted the road map in 2003, and adopted the disengagement plan in 2005," the officials continued. "Israel will continue to abide by these bilateral understandings and seeks to strengthen them with the new US administration."
Dov Weisglass, who was intimately involved in reaching these understandings with the US, wrote in Yediot Aharonot on Tuesday that there was "no doubt" that the Bush administration recognized Israel's right to build within the construction lines of the settlements, on condition that no new settlements would be established, that there would be no expropriation of Palestinian land for the settlements and that no budgets would be allocated for encouraging settlement.
Officials in the Prime Minister's Office said there was concern that the US was now attempting to roll back those agreements.
...Obama also intimated that if Hizbullah were to win the elections later this week in Lebanon, the US would possibly have to reconsider its policy toward the organization. ...