What is the point of 'international law' when it can be summarily dismissed by the US in service to its ally Israel?
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s announcement that the long-held American policy that Israeli settlements were illegitimate according to international law has been abandoned, and could be the final nail in the coffin for any role for the US in mediation between Israelis and Palestinians.
It comes following a ‘legal review’ to reassess the 1978 State Department legal opinion that civilian settlements in the occupied territories are “inconsistent with international law.”
In the past, Israel would give due respect to its ally and largest backer, the United States, in discussing the creation of new settlements or major expansions of existing settlements – but now that is no longer necessary. Pompeo announced that “the establishment of Israeli civilian settlements is not, per se, inconsistent with international law.”
Pompeo ‘clarified’ the position further by stating that calling the establishment of civilian settlements inconsistent with international law hasn't "advanced the cause of peace.”
He further claimed that “the hard truth is there will never be a judicial resolution to the conflict."
While claiming there would never be a judicial resolution to the settlement issue he left the decision on the ‘legality’ of these colonies to the Israeli judicial system, stating, “first, look, we recognize that, as Israeli courts have, the legal conclusions relating to individual settlements must depend on an assessment of specific facts and circumstances on the ground.”
Pompeo also said that at best the Palestinians may have humanitarian reasons as to why they might object to the building of settlements on what they consider their lands. If they have any objections, he has pointed them to the Israeli courts, not international law. He claims the Israeli legal system allows challenging settlement activity.
It was clearly lost on Secretary Pompeo that had the US, and the rest of the international community acted early to stop Israel expanding into illegally occupied territories, whether Palestinian or Syrian (the Golan Heights), peace may have been within reach now.
The international community has a sound record of condemning settlement expansion but never actually acting to stop it. These empty words allowed Israel to carry on, eating into Palestinian areas, making it impossible for an independent, contiguous Palestinian state to emerge.
Pompeo’s claims that this announcement would be conducive to peace was immediately undermined by his department issuing a security advisory through its Embassy in Israel to American citizens in Palestine and Israel.
Similar claims about US unilateral action contributing to peace were made by President Trump himself when announcing US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017. That decision was met with almost universal condemnation by the international community and with demonstrations in the Arab world. It also resulted in the Palestinian leadership ceasing all contact with the US Administration.
Those moves were followed by the US cutting aid for UNRWA and even to Jerusalem hospitals. In what was seen as further punishment to Palestinians, the Palestinian Mission in Washington DC was forcibly shut down.
Pompeo’s announcement was obviously well received by Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu who desperately needs political capital as he faces corruption charges at home and a potential third successive election.
The man tasked with forming the next Israeli Government, Benny Gantz also backed the US declaration while senior Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat said the Trump administration is replacing international law with "the law of the jungle."
The likely impact of continued US bias will furnish Israel with more impunity to act above international law. The US administration has delivered a whole series of gifts to Israel without extracting any price that could provide the Palestinians with any hope for the end of their oppression and occupation.
Israel, will, of course, continue to accept freebies and will be asking itself what else it can extract from the US while Trump is in office.
For Palestinians, it is time to re-evaluate their strategy for liberation as the current one has not brought them any closer to freedom or justice. Inevitably this must involve a recognition that while the world talks the talk about a two-state solution, America walks the walk trampling all over it.
The fact is that over six million Palestinians live under a one-state reality where Israel is an apartheid state applying two systems for the people it rules over. Those countries that espouse democratic values at the heart of which is the rule of law must now re-evaluate their support for a country which has flouted international law since its inception and has no desire to change course.
Despite the destructive actions of the Trump administration, a glimmer of hope is emerging. This hope comes in the form of support for the Palestinian cause on campuses across the US and the potential end of bipartisan support for Israel amongst congressmen and women. It is only a flash but one that can potentially snowball into another opportunity for peace between Palestinians and Israelis.
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