Tuesday, December 01, 2020

The US declares West Bank settlements no longer illegal

By Yehudit Tzfat - November 24, 2019
Section: [Main News]
Tags: [settlements]

United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reversed decades of American policy this week, announcing the country would no longer consider Israeli settlements in the West Bank a violation of international law. 

Pompeo said on Monday that the US is backing away from a 1978 State Department legal opinion declaring that settlements are inconsistent with international law. 

"After carefully studying all sides of the legal debate, the United States has concluded that the establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not, per se, inconsistent with international law," Pompeo said during a press conference. 

"Calling the establishment of civilian settlements inconsistent with international law hasn't worked. It hasn't 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.”

Settler leaders and right-wing politicians praised the policy shift, while Palestinians and the international community rejected it. 

Oded Revivi, mayor of Efat settlement and the so-called foreign minister of the Yesha settlement council umbrella group, hailed US’ softened position and called on the Israeli government to annex the West Bank. 

“Settlement is not a crime and it is not an obstacle to peace,” Revivi said. Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said the move “will help us stop and thwart boycott attacks against Israel that are focused on the West Bank.” 

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat called the announcement an impediment to "global stability, security, and peace" and said it risked replacing international law with "the law of the jungle." And Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the decision, saying it "rights a historical wrong", and urged other countries to also shift their stance on Israeli settlements. 

Just two days after President Donald Trump administration’s controversial declaration, 14 other United Nations Security Council members condemned the new US stance during the group’s monthly Mideast meeting. The representatives warned the change in policy undermines a two-state solution. 

Before the meeting started, Britain, France, Germany, Belgium and Poland — all US allies — said in a joint statement that “settlement activity is illegal under international law” and called on Israel “to end all settlement activity, in line with its obligations as an occupying power.”

In 1978, President Jimmy Carter’s administration concluded settlements violated international law. But in 1981, President Ronald Reagan rejected that decision, saying he did not believe Israeli settlements are illegal. Going forward, US policy claimed settlements were “illegitimate” but not “illegal.” Yet in 2016, President Barack Obama administration broke from consistent practice by not vetoing a UN resolution calling for an end to Israeli settlements. 

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