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October 21, 2020
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US no longer considers Israeli settlements illegal

Palestinians slam US policy reversal on Israeli settlements

US says it no longer considers Israeli settlements illegal, drawing sharp criticism from Palestinians, rights groups.

A general view shows Palestinian houses in the village of Wadi Fukin as the Israeli settlement of Beitar Illit is seen in the background, in the occupied West Bank [File: Nir Elias/Reuters]
A general view shows Palestinian houses in the village of Wadi Fukin as the Israeli settlement of Beitar Illit is seen in the background, in the occupied West Bank [File: Nir Elias/Reuters]

Palestinians, rights groups, politicians and others have sharply criticised the Trump administration after it announced the United States was no longer considered Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank “inconsistent” with international law.

“After carefully studying all sides of the legal debate, this administration agrees … (the) establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not, per se, inconsistent with international law,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday when making the announcement.

He said the administration of US President Donald Trump would no longer abide by a 1978 State Department legal opinion that said the settlements were “inconsistent with international law”.

According to several United Nations Security Council resolutions, the most recent in 2016, Israeli settlements are illegal under international law as they violate the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits an occupying power from transferring its population to the area it occupies.

The US announcement, the latest in a series of moves by the Trump administration favouring Israel, drew immediate criticism from Palestinians, rights groups and politicians worldwide.

A spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the US decision “contradicts totally with international law”.

Washington is “not qualified or authorised to cancel the resolutions of international law, and has no right to grant legality to any Israeli settlement”, Palestinian presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeinah said in a statement.

Hanan Ashrawi, a veteran Palestinian negotiator and member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee, said on Twitter before Pompeo’s statement that the move represented another blow to “international law, justice & peace”.

Jordan’s foreign minister, Ayman Safadi, warned that the US change of position would have “dangerous consequences” on the prospects of reviving the Middle East peace process.

Safadi said in a tweet that Israeli settlements in the territory were illegal and killed prospects of a two-state solution in which a Palestinian state would exist side-by-side with Israel, which Arab countries say is the only way to resolve the decades-old Arab-Israeli conflict.

‘A gift to Netanyahu’

More than 600,000 Israelis currently live in settlements in the occupied West Bank, including occupied East Jerusalem. Some three million Palestinians live there.

The settlements have long been considered a major stumbling blocks to an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

Monitor groups have said Israel has conducted a settlement push since Trump took office.

Monday’s announcement marked another significant instance in which the Trump administration has sided with Israel and against stances taken by the Palestinians and Arab states even before unveiling its long-delayed Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.

In 2017, Trump recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and, in 2018, the US formally opened an embassy in the city. US policy had previously been that the status of Jerusalem was to be decided by the parties to the conflict.

In 2018, the US also announced it was cutting its contributions to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.

And in March, Trump recognised Israel’s 1981 annexation of the occupied Golan Heights in a boost for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that prompted a sharp response from Syria, which once held the strategic land.

Netanyahu on Monday welcomed the shift in policy, saying the US move “rights a historical wrong”.

Yousef Munayyer, the executive director of the US Campaign for Palestinian rights, called Pompeo’s announcement “another gift to Netanyahu and a green light to Israeli leaders to put settlement building further into overdrive and advance formal annexation”.

 

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