US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has announced a U-turn in policy toward Israeli settlements in the West Bank, declaring Washington no longer sees them as inconsistent with international law.
Pompeo said the US will no longer adhere to the 1978 State Department legal opinion on the settlements, and insisted that it would not lead to the US’ isolation from the rest of the global community on the issue.
The US’ top diplomat said the Trump administration will leave the status of the West Bank to Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate.
Pompeo said the decision came as a result of a “legal review” and was not intended to send any message, though the move is likely to anger the Palestinian side and human rights groups who have condemned the settlements and say they undermine peace efforts.
The Trump administration has been a staunch ally of Netanyahu’s government and consistently taken Israel’s side on major issues, calling into question Washington’s ability to be a neutral arbiter in any peace process. In 2017, Trump recognized the contested Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved the US embassy there from Tel Aviv. Last year, Trump recognized Israel’s 1981 seizure of Syria’s Golan Heights as legitimate.
Trump’s critics have suggested he may be making his overtly pro-Israel moves in an effort to help Netanyahu hold on to power after inconclusive elections in September.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated that the American government does not consider Israeli Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria to be in violation of international law.
Addressing reporters at a press conference Monday, Pompeo said: “The Trump Administration is reversing the Obama Administration’s towards Israeli settlements. US 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. Subsequent administrations recognized that unrestrained settlement activity could be an obstacle to peace, but they wisely and prudently recognized that dwelling on ;legal positions didn’t advance peace,” Pompeo explained.
He accused former US Secretary of State John Kerry of changing “decades of this careful, bipartisan approach by publicly reaffirming the supposed illegality of settlements” in December 2016, at the end of the Obama Administration.
“After carefully studying all sides of the legal debate, this administration agrees with President Reagan,” Pompeo declared. “The establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not, per say, inconsistent with international law.”
He further stated that the Trump Administration recognized the authority of Israeli courts on the legality of specific Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria.
“The Israeli legal system affords an opportunity to challenge settlement activity and assess humanitarian considerations connected to it. Israeli courts have confirmed the legality of certain settlement activities, and has concluded that others cannot be legally sustained.
He added: “We are not addressing or prejudging the ultimate status of the West Bank. This is for the Israelis and the Palestinians to negotiate. International law does not compel a particular outcome nor create any legal obstacle to a negotiated resolution.”