U.S. must erase legal opinion condemning Judea and Samaria settlements, ZOA says
“Failure to rescind the opinion would allow future US administrations to use it as a basis to support anti-Israeli resolutions at the UN.”
The United States must rescind its famous 41-year old legal opinion that West Bank settlements are “inconsistent with international law,” the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) said as it embarked on a renewed campaign this week to pressure the Trump administration on the matter.
“Termination of this opinion is long overdue,” said Jeff Daube, the ZOA’s Israel Director, adding that it has been used to “fuel Israel bashing,” particularly at the United Nations.
Daube is in Washington this week to solicit support among US Congress members for the Trump administration to formally rescind a 1978 opinion by former State Department legal adviser Herbert J. Hansell, who worked for the Carter administration.
He authored the opinion in support of UN Security Council Resolution 465 against West Bank settlement activity and Jewish building in Jerusalem. All 15 UNSC members, including the US, supported the resolution.
Daube said he believes the Obama administration failed to veto the 2016 UNSC Resolution 2334 that condemned Israeli settlement activity and affirmed its illegality under international law because of the Hansel opinion. Former ambassador to the UN Samantha Power hinted as such in her remarks, he added.
Failure to rescind the opinion would allow future US administrations to use it as a basis to support anti-Israeli resolutions at the UN, Daube said.
In addition, he said, he is concerned that the document could be the basis of any potential war crimes suit in front of the International Criminal Court at The Hague with respect to settlement activity.
“It is important for the White House under the leadership of President Trump to take the simple step of rescinding this archaic legal opinion which is still being used both to accuse the Government of Israel of breaking the law and, by association, to smear the United States,” Daube said.
“Vacating a legal opinion against settlements is not the same as saying that settlements are a great idea,” he added.
The ZOA push also comes as the UN Human Rights Council is set to publish its blacklist of companies doing business with West Bank settlements, which presumes that settlement activity is illegal.
The US has historically stood apart from the international community on the issue of the legality of Israeli settlement activity.
The UN and the EU hold that any West Bank settlement activity is illegal; a stance that perpetually creates tension with Israel.
The International Court of Justice at The Hague in 2004 also stated that the settlement activity was illegal when it issued an advisory opinion on the Israel security barrier in the West Bank.
But past US administrations have not characterized such activity as illegal, and former US president Ronald Reagen once blatantly stated that settlement building was not illegal.
Some of the strongest language against settlements was under the Carter administration, but even Hansell’s opinion stopped short of declaring them illegal.
The Obama administration, which had a zero-tolerance view of the settlements, also did not use the phrase “illegal.”