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U.S.: Israeli West Bank settlements not necessarily international law violations

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared that Israeli West Bank settlements are not per se inconsistent with international law, effectively reversing the Obama Administration’s approach towards Jewish communities that were established on disputed lands. According to the top American official “The Trump administration is reversing the Obama administration’s approach towards Israeli settlements. 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. 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.  However, in December 2016, at the very end of the previous administration, Secretary Kerry changed decades of this careful, bipartisan approach by publicly reaffirming the supposed illegality of settlements. After carefully studying all sides of the legal debate, this administration agrees with President Reagan.  The establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not per se inconsistent with international law.”

Secretary Pompeo further underscored that “Calling the establishment of civilian settlements inconsistent with international law hasn’t worked.  It hasn’t advanced the cause of peace. The hard truth is there will never be a judicial resolution to the conflict, and arguments about who is right and wrong as a matter of international law will not bring peace.  This is a complex political problem that can only be solved by negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The United States remains deeply committed to helping facilitate peace, and I will do everything I can to help this cause.”

The comments by the top American diplomat were received with genuine joy in Israel’s capital, Jerusalem. In a filmed statement on Facebook, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saying “People of Israel, this is a historic day and another great achievement to our policy. After president Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, recognized our sovereignty over the Golan Heights, the U.S. administration has now put an end to the lie that settlements are illegal. I thank president Trump and I thank Secretary of State Pompeo.”

In contrast to Israel’s praise of the American move, the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank city of Ramallah, voiced outrage. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat condemned the Trump Administration, insisting that the “Israeli colonial settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories including East Jerusalem are not only illegal under international law, they are war crimes, and the statement of Mr. Pompeo, the secretary of State of the United States, is absolutely rejected and must be condemned, because once super powers, once the Trump administration decide to undermine international law, once they become an administration that is pro Israel’s occupation, pro-Israel war crimes, this constitutes a major threat to international peace and security and this is turning the international community from the rules of international law, the rules of solving conflicts by peaceful means into the rules of the jungle.”