US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on rejected Israeli assertions
that the Bush administration had reached a binding agreement with Israel on Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
"We have the negotiating record, that is the official record that was turned over to the Obama administration by the outgoing Bush administration," Clinton said Friday at a joint press conference with her Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu.
"There is no memorialization of any informal or oral agreement" concerning the settlements, she said.
Since coming to office in January, President Barack Obama has repeatedly called on Israel to halt all settlement activity in Palestinian areas, a demand rejected by the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Israelis say they received commitments from the previous US administration of President George W. Bush permitting some growth in existing settlements.
They say the US position was laid out in a 2004 letter from Bush to then Israeli premier Ariel Sharon.
Clinton rejected that claim, saying any such US stance was informal and "did not become part of the official position of the United States government."
She reiterated the US position that Israel is obliged to follow commitments made in a so-called "road map" for peace negotiations with the Palestinians which foresaw a halt to settlement activity.
"Those obligations are very clear," Clinton said.
More than 280,000 Israelis live in settlements dotted throughout the West Bank, and their fate has become a key early dispute between the young Obama and Netanyahu governments.
Obama has notably demanded that Israel stop all its activity in the settlements, including so-called "natural growth"
construction that allows for building to accommodate a rising population.
The US president made the demand publicly during his first White House meeting with Netanyahu two weeks ago and repeated it during a landmark speech in Cairo on Thursday.
"The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop," Obama said in his speech billed
as a message to the Muslim world.
In a rare public spat between Israel and its staunchest ally, Obama has also repeatedly demanded that Netanyahu's government commit to a fully sovereign Palestinian state, something the hard-line leader has yet to do.