In Latest Pro-Israel Move, Trump Administration Declares Settlements Do Not Violate International Law
The United States on Monday effectively backed Israel’s right to build settlements in the West Bank, declaring they did not violate international law.
The announcement by US 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.
Pompeo noted US statements about the settlements in the West Bank — which Israel took control of from Jordan during the 1967 Six-Day War and the Palestinians seek as part of a future state — had not been uniform, pointing out Democrat President Jimmy Carter in 1978 found they were not consistent with international law and Republican President Ronald Reagan in 1981 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.
The announcement marked the third major 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 recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and, in 2018, the US formally opened an embassy in the city.
And in March, Trump recognized Israel’s 1981 annexation of the Golan Heights in a boost for Netanyahu that prompted a sharp response from Syria, which once held the strategic plateau.
Trump’s move might have been designed to help Netanyahu as he struggles to stay in power. Israeli politics is deadlocked after two inconclusive elections this year. Former military chief Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party emerged neck and neck with Netanyahu following a September vote, and both leaders have struggled to put together a ruling coalition.
Netanyahu welcomed Pompeo’s words, stating, “Today, the United States adopted an important policy that rights a historical wrong when the Trump administration clearly rejected the false claim that Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria are inherently illegal under international law.”
“This policy reflects an historical truth — that the Jewish people are not foreign colonialists in Judea and Samaria,” he continued. “In fact, we are called Jews because we are the people of Judea.”
“The Trump administration policy is also correct in stating that those who have categorically denied any legal basis for the settlements not only deny truth, history and the reality on the ground, they also set back the cause of peace, which can only be achieved through direct negotiations between the parties,” Netanyahu asserted. “Israel’s legal system, which has proven itself fully capable of addressing legal questions related to the settlements, is the appropriate place for these matters to be adjudicated — not biased international forums that pay no attention to history or facts.”
“Israel remains ready and willing to conduct peace negotiations with the Palestinians regarding all final status issues in an effort to achieve a durable peace but will continue to reject all arguments regarding the illegality of the settlements. Israel is deeply grateful to President Trump, Secretary Pompeo and the entire US administration for their steadfast position supporting truth and justice, and calls upon all responsible countries who hope to advance peace to adopt a similar position,” the Israeli leader concluded.