On November 18th, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the US was softening its position on Israeli settlements.
He announced the Trump administration was reversing the Obama administration’s approach towards Israeli settlements in the West Bank. And that was because US policy statements on settlements in the area were “inconsistent.”
HINT: Transcript is available here.
Pompeo renounced a 1978 State Department legal opinion that held that civilian settlements in the occupied territories are “inconsistent with international law.”
The Trump administration considered the opinion as a basis to long-term US opposition to expanding settlements in the West Bank. Pompeo added that it was a a distraction and claimed that any legal questions about the issue should be addressed by Israeli courts.
“Calling the establishment of civilian settlements inconsistent with international law has not advanced the cause of peace,” Pompeo said. “The hard truth is that there will never be a judicial resolution to the conflict, and arguments about who is right and who is wrong as a matter of international law will not bring peace.”
Pompeo said that the U.S. would not take a position on the legality of specific settlements, that the new policy would not extend beyond the West Bank and that it would not create a precedent for other territorial disputes, he said. He apparently has forgotten that the US acknowledged the Golan Heights, a Syrian territory occupied by Israel as legitimately belonging to Tel Aviv.
Pompeo dismissed suggestions that the decision would further isolate the U.S. or Israel in the international community, which is about to happen more than likely.
Shortly after Pompeo’s announcement, the US Embassy in Jerusalem issued an advisory warning for Americans planning to travel in the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza, saying, “Individuals and groups opposed to (Pompeo’s) announcement may target U.S. government facilities, U.S. private interests, and U.S. citizens.”
It called on them “to maintain a high level of vigilance and take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness in light of the current environment.”
This is yet another US move that goes against Palestinian statehood efforts, including President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the movement of the US Embassy to the city, as well as closing Palestinian diplomatic office in Washington among other things.
Israeli politicians and settlement leaders expressed their approval of the US decision, calling for more annexation.
Oded Revivi, the mayor of the large settlement of Efrat and the so-called foreign minister of the Yesha settlement council umbrella group commented favorably of the announcement.
“Settlement is not a crime and it is not an obstacle to peace,” he said. He further underlined that the shift in policy was, in no small way, owed to US Ambassador David Friedman. A long-time supporter of Israeli illegal settlement.
Binyamin Regional Council chairman Yisrael Gantz called the announcement a “major step toward Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank.”
“Now is the time for the Israeli government to declare the application of Israeli laws in Judea and Samaria,” he added.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, vowed twice in 2019 to annex more land in the West Bank and the Jordan Valley – once before the April elections, and once more after the September elections.
Regarding this comment, Netanyahu had the following to say:
“The United States adopted an important policy that rights a historical wrong when the Trump administration clearly rejected the false claim that Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria are inherently illegal under international law,” he said.
Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi tweeted the following:
Settlements in occupied #Palestine are a blatant violation of Int’l law & UNSCRs. They are an illegal action that’ll kill 2-state solution. Jordan’s position in condemning them is unwavering. We warn against dangerous consequences of US change of position on settlements on MEPP
— Ayman Safadi (@AymanHsafadi) November 18, 2019
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ spokesman, Nabil Abu Rdeneh, condemned Pompeo’s announcement and said settlements are illegal under International law.
“The U.S. administration has lost its credibility to play any future role in the peace process,” he said.
National Union leader Bezalel Smotrich indicated that the decision was sparked by last week’s European Court of Justice ruling that said products made in Israeli settlements must be labeled as such. He also mentioned that he had met aides for US Ambassador David Friedman at the time and asked them to cancel the Hansell Memorandum.
“I congratulate the US president on his correct decision… as I suggested a few days ago during my meeting with Ambassador Friedman’s staff,” Smotrich wrote. “This is certainly a worthy response to last week’s European Union court decision. We are advancing international recognition of the settlement project.”
The international community overwhelmingly considers the settlements illegal. This is based in part on the Fourth Geneva Convention, which bars an occupying power from transferring parts of its own civilian population to occupied territory.
Israel rejects the position that the territories are occupied, saying they were captured from Jordan in a defensive war.
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