In Big Win for Israel, US Declares Israeli Settlements Consistent With International law
“Israel is building illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which are still considered occupied territories. This kills any alleged ‘peace process.’ There is no more 2 state solution.”
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced in a statement on Monday that the Trump administration believes Israeli settlement activities in the Palestinian West Bank do not contradict international law. Pompeo’s remarks directly contradict long-standing U.S. policy on such settlements, which has until now largely considered any Israeli construction of housing units on Palestinian lands as “inconsistent with international law.” The policy shift is a major win for Israel in an administration that has already controversially shifted U.S. policy on the Israel-Palestine conflict increasingly in Israel’s favor.
Pompeo’s announcement referenced the 1978 State Department legal opinion issued during the Carter administration that declared the Israeli settlements inconsistent with international law. According to Pompeo, the Trump administration rejects the findings of the Carter administration and instead is embracing a policy stance formed under President Ronald Reagan.
“U.S. public statements on settlement activities in the West Bank have been inconsistent over decades. In 1978 the Carter administration categorically concluded that Israel’s establishment of civilian settlements was inconsistent with international law. However, in 1981, President Reagan disagreed with that conclusion and stated that he didn’t believe that the settlements were inherently illegal,” Pompeo stated.
Administrations since then have largely disapproved of the Israeli settlements but often tried to strike a balance until the Barack Obama administration went back to the original interpretation of President Carter.
“After carefully studying all sides of the legal debate, this administration agrees… (the) establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not, per se, inconsistent with international law,” Pompeo said
The latest statement by a high-ranking American official is a part of a series of U.S. policy shifts in the Middle East that the administration of President Donald Trump has adopted since he took office.
Last May, Trump moved the American embassy from Tel Aviv to East Jerusalem, where Palestinians have sought to establish the capital of their future Palestinian state as part of a long-envisioned two-state solution.
Later, Trump declared the Syrian Golan Heights Israeli territory, even though Palestinians still believe both the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem, along with the West Bank, are Arab lands despite Israel claiming the territory from Syria after the 1967 war.
The Trump administration has also cut off multiple avenues of U.S. financial assistance to Palestinian relief agencies.
The pro-Israel policies adopted under the Trump administration has been seen as moving the U.S. away from its longstanding support of a two-state solution. After Pompeo’s Monday announcement, N.Y. Times columnist Wajahat Ali tweeted, “Israel is building illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which are still considered occupied territories. This kills any alleged ‘peace process.’ There is no more 2 state solution.”
Instead, the Trump administration has opted for a new plan of its own, called the “Deal of the Century,” which is based on an economic solution without a clear political vision for resolving the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Palestinians have vehemently rejected the Trump administration’s proposed deal, upset it did not offer a political solution to the longstanding conflict.
Palestinians Condemn the New Policy
In reaction to Pompeo’s announcement, the Palestinian Authority strongly condemned the latest policy shift. Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki described the U.S. policy announcement as “lawless”.
“The state of Palestine condemns in the strongest terms the U.S. administration’s lawless position on Israel’s illegal settlements in occupied territory of the state of Palestine, as announced by the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. This position violates international law, decades-long international consensus over the issue and determinations of the International Court of Justice, the high contracting parties to the Geneva Conventions and United Nations resolutions, including Security Council resolutions,” Malki said in a statement.
Malki added that that the remarks of Pompeo on Israeli settlements “are a green light to annex all the West Bank and bury the two-state solution.”
The Palestinian Authority has called on the League of Arab States to hold an emergency meeting at the level of Arab foreign ministers to discuss the matter and prepare a response.
Secretary-General of the Arab States, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, said in a statement that the U.S. position would lead to more violence and brutality against the Palestinian population, stressing that it undermines any prospects for a just peace based on ending the Israeli occupation.
The ruling Islamist Hamas party in Gaza also slammed Pompeo’s remarks as evidence of U.S. bias against Palestinians.
“Pompeo’s remarks are a continuation of the American policy, which has been always biased, in support of the occupation, and an official cover for its violations and crimes committed against the Palestinian people,” said Hamas in a press statement.
International Reaction to US’ Israeli Settlement Statement
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was quoted as praising Pompeo’s remarks, describing them as a “correction of a historical wrong.”
The United Nations, on the other hand, expressed concern about the U.S.’ change of position. In a press briefing, held in New York on Tuesday, U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said that United Nations “very much regrets” the announcement. Dujarric added, “The United Nations remains committed to the two-state solution, which is based on relevant U.N. resolutions.”
In the meantime, the European Union said in a statement on Tuesday that Israeli settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territories are considered illegal by international law and that they undermine chances of peace in the region. E.U. Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement, “The E.U. calls on Israel, as an occupying power, to put an end to all its settlement activities.”
Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi was quoted by the Qatar-based Al Jazeera English-language news website, as saying, “The change of the U.S. policy would have dangerous consequences on the prospects of peace in the region.” Al-Safadi also said that settlement activities are illegal under international law and that they have constituted an obstacle to peace that is based on a two-state solution, which the Arab states agree to.
Some local Palestinian commentators believe that the latest U.S. stance towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could fuel hatred in the region and might lead to some large-scale violence.
“Palestinians should come out with one main position against such a major U.S. policy shift. I do believe that the U.S. is no longer a fair patron for peace in the region and that the two-state solution has been grossly undermined. Palestinians should seek a one-state-solution, following consultations with all parties, concerned,” Hussam al-Dajany, a Gaza-based political analyst told Citizen Truth on Tuesday.
Since the 1967 War when Israel seized the Gaza Strip, West Bank and East Jerusalem, the United Nations passed a series of binding resolutions, including resolution 242, which demands Israel to withdraw from the Arab territories it has occupied since June 4, 1967.
Most recently, the U.N. Security Council in 2016 passed resolution 2334. The resolution clearly regards Israeli settlements as illegal, claiming they violate the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits any occupying power from transferring its citizens to areas it occupies.
Palestinian-American ties have been severed since 2017 when the Trump administration declared occupied East Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. In 2018 Trump ordered the moval of the U.S. embassy to East Jerusalem, and later, his administration cut off all forms of contact with the Palestinian Authority.
Growing Israeli Settlements
Currently, there are more than 600,000 Israeli settlers living in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, where about three million Palestinians live.
Watch groups suggest that illegal Israeli settlement activities in the occupied West Bank have grown rapidly since Trump took office. In 2019, Israel approved the construction of over 2,000 Israeli housing units in the occupied Palestinian West Bank, representing a sharp increase in settlement building over 2018 numbers.
According to Peace Now, the Israeli Higher Planning Council of the Civil Administration originally approved 1,623 planned units in a first phase of the settlement building plan, while 719 other units were approved for a final phase, bringing the total units to 2,342.
About 8,337 new Israeli housing units in existing Israeli settlements have been approved since the beginning of 2019. Such plans represent a 50% increase compared to the 5,618 units built in 2018.
In 2014 the Palestinian Authority boycotted peace talks with Israel after the latter rejected a halt to settlement activities. In 1993 both Israelis and Palestinians signed a Declarations of Principles, which was an attempt at ending hostilities. The U.S. supported these principles until now. Israeli settlement construction is one of the most contentious issues of the two opposing sides.