Trump changes decades-old U.S. po­si­tion on Is­raeli set­tle­ments

Lodi News-Sentinel - - PAGE TWO - By Tracy Wilkin­son

WASH­ING­TON — Re­vers­ing decades of care­fully worded U.S. pol­icy, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion on Mon­day said that, in its view, Is­raeli set­tle­ments in the oc­cu­pied West Bank do not vi­o­late in­ter­na­tional law.

The move could clear the way for Is­rael’s an­nex­a­tion of set­tle­ments on the dis­puted land and runs counter to most of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, which has de­clared that un­der the Geneva Con­ven­tion, Jewish set­tle­ments built on land seized by Is­rael dur­ing the 1967 Mid­dle East War are il­le­gal. The con­ven­tion bars an oc­cu­py­ing power from trans­fer­ring parts of its own civil­ian pop­u­la­tion to oc­cu­pied ter­ri­tory.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s new po­si­tion also fur­ther un­der­mined Pales­tini­ans’ bid for state­hood and greatly re­duced chances of re­new­ing peace talks, Mideast ex­perts said.

For many years U.S. pol­icy has been in­ten­tion­ally vague on the sen­si­tive is­sue of set­tle­ments’ le­gal sta­tus. The clear­est state­ment came un­der Pres­i­dent Jimmy Carter in a 1978 State De­part­ment le­gal opin­ion, which found set­tle­ments to be “in­con­sis­tent with in­ter­na­tional law.”

Pres­i­dent Ron­ald Rea­gan said in an in­ter­view that he dis­agreed with that view, but his ad­min­is­tra­tion held to a pol­icy in fa­vor of freez­ing set­tle­ments.

Since then, pres­i­dents and ad­min­is­tra­tions from both po­lit­i­cal par­ties have largely avoided any for­mal le­gal opin­ions about the set­tle­ments, in­stead call­ing them “un­help­ful,” “provoca­tive” or a hin­drance to peace. Ad­di­tion­ally, Trump’s pre­de­ces­sors had pressed Is­rael to vary­ing de­grees to stop build­ing set­tle­ments on land that Pales­tini­ans hope to one day make part of their state.

Sec­re­tary of State Michael R. Pom­peo said Mon­day that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion dis­agreed with the 1978 State De­part­ment le­gal opin­ion.

“The es­tab­lish­ment of Is­raeli civil­ian set­tle­ments in the West Bank is not, per se, in­con­sis­tent with in­ter­na­tional law,” Pom­peo said.

It was un­clear ex­actly what ac­tions the ad­min­is­tra­tion was tak­ing and whether it was for­mally re­scind­ing the 1978 opin­ion. Pom­peo said the new U.S. po­si­tion was in­tended to jump-start peace talks.

“Call­ing the es­tab­lish­ment of civil­ian set­tle­ments in­con­sis­tent with in­ter­na­tional law hasn’t worked. It hasn’t ad­vanced the cause of peace,” Pom­peo told re­porters in a hur­riedly called news con­fer­ence.

The an­nounce­ment drew im­me­di­ate crit­i­cism from Pales­tini­ans and Is­raeli or­ga­ni­za­tions that ad­vo­cate for a peace­ful, two-state solution to the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict — a Pales­tinian state along­side Is­rael.

“This is not at all con­struc­tive for a le­git­i­mate peace­ful solution,” said David Halperin, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Is­rael Pol­icy Fo­rum, a pro-Is­rael U.S. or­ga­ni­za­tion that ad­vo­cates for a two-state solution.

“It will con­tinue to breathe life into the Is­raeli right” and give a green light to even­tual an­nex­a­tion of the West Bank, de­priv­ing the Pales­tini­ans of an in­de­pen­dent home­land once and for all, he said in a tele­phone in­ter­view.

Is­rael’s set­tle­ment con­struc­tion has sky­rock­eted over the last few decades, and the set­tle­ments now house more than 400,000 Is­raelis. Pales­tini­ans say the scat­tered Jewish com­mu­ni­ties al­ready make it dif­fi­cult to cre­ate a sin­gle, con­tigu­ous Pales­tinian state. In past peace talks, Pales­tini­ans have de­manded that Is­raeli set­tle­ment con­struc­tion be halted and ex­ist­ing set­tle­ments be re­moved.

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