The US has declared that Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land are not necessarily illegal, in a dramatic break with decades of international law, US policy and the established position of most US allies.
“Calling the establishment of civilian settlements inconsistent with international law has not advanced the cause of peace,” said Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state. “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.”
He said the legality of individual settlements should be decided by the Israeli courts, and claimed that the US declaration would not prejudice an ultimate comprehensive settlement between Israelis and Palestinians.
The US declaration marks the rejection of a 2016 UN security council resolution that settlements on the West Bank are a “flagrant violation” of international law and the US legal position on the issue since 1978. It is also a renunciation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which outlaws transfers of population by an occupying power, and a new rift with US allies in Europe and in the Islamic world.
Pompeo’s statement is however, an extension of previous Trump policy, which has been marked by a series of radical pro-Israeli moves and the abandonment of Washington’s historic role as broker. The administration has already recognised Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, and Israeli sovereignty in the occupied Golan Heights.
The move is a boon for Benjamin Netanyahu who is fighting for his political survival as he waits to see if his opponent, Benny Gantz, can assemble a coalition government. Pompeo’s rare appearance in the state department briefing room, at a time when he has been criticised for failing to stand up for US diplomats caught up in the Ukraine impeachment scandal, may also be designed to enhance his profile among the Republican faithful in his own state of Kansas, where he appears to be contemplating a run for a Senate seat.
More details soon…