US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US backs Israel's right to build Jewish settlements on the occupied West Bank by abandoning its four-decade position that they were "inconsistent with international law."
US on Monday effectively backed Israel to build illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank by abandoning its four-decade-old position that they were “inconsistent with international law,” a stance that may make Israeli-Palestinian peace even more elusive.
The announcement by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was a victory for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is struggling to remain in power after two inconclusive Israeli elections this year, and a defeat for the Palestinians.
It appeared to deliver a new blow to Trump’s efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through a peace plan that has been in the works for more than two years but has drawn widespread scepticism even before its release.
Pompeo said US statements about the settlements on the West Bank, which Israel captured in 1967, had been inconsistent, saying Democratic President Jimmy Carter found they were not consistent with international law and Republican President Ronald Reagan said he did not view them as inherently illegal.
“The establishment of Israeli civilian settlements is not, per se, inconsistent with international law,” Pompeo told reporters at the State Department, reversing a formal legal position taken by the United States under Carter in 1978.
His announcement drew praise from Netanyahu, who said it “rights a historical wrong,” and condemnation from Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, who said Washington was threatening “to replace international law with the ‘law of the jungle.’”
Palestinians argued the US stance flouted international law. The international community views the transfer of any country’s civilians to occupied land as illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 and UN Security Council resolutions.
“The United States is neither qualified nor is authorized to negate international legitimacy resolutions and it has no right to give any legitimacy to Israeli settlement,” said Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
US said its stance could prompt violence, warning Americans in the region to exercise greater vigilance because those opposing the move “may target” US government facilities, private interests and citizens.
Jordan’s foreign minister, Ayman Safadi, said the policy change would have “dangerous consequences” for the prospects of reviving peace talks and called settlements “a blatant violation of international law.”
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
The European Union said that it continued to believe that Israeli settlement activity in occupied Palestinian territory was illegal under international law and eroded prospects for lasting peace.
"The EU calls on Israel to end all settlement activity, inline with its obligations as an occupying power," EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement.
Analysts criticised the move, saying it would make it even harder to resolve the more than 70-year-old conflict.
“He can declare that night is day, but it will not change the fact that Israeli settlements are not only illegal under international law, but are also a huge obstacle to peace and to the stability of our region,” said Hagit Ofran of the Israeli anti-settlements group Peace Now.
The announcement marked the third major instance in which the Trump administration has sided with Israel and against Palestinians and Arab positions.
In 2017 Trump recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and, in 2018, the United States formally opened an embassy there. US policy had previously been that Jerusalem’s status was to be decided by the parties to the conflict.
And in March, Trump recognised Israel’s 1981 annexation of the Golan Heights from Syria in a boost for Netanyahu that prompted a sharp response from Damascus.
As of late Monday, no other nations appeared to have followed the United States by declaring they had ceased to view the settlements as inconsistent with international law.
Trump’s move may aim to help Netanyahu as he tries to stay in power. After two inconclusive elections this year, Netanyahu and rival Gantz have both struggled to forge a ruling coalition.
Martin Indyk, a former US peace negotiator, described the decision on Twitter as “a totally gratuitous move.”
“Why slap the Palestinians in the face again? Why boost the settlement/annexation movement at the very moment that Gantz is trying to form a government?” he asked.