US softens position on Israeli settlements
WASHINGTON >> Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Monday that the U.S. is softening its position on Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, the latest in a series of Trump administration moves that weaken Palestinian claims to statehood.
Pompeo repudiated a 1978 State Department legal opinion that held that civilian settlements in the occupied territories are “inconsistent with international law.” The move angered Palestinians and immediately put the U.S. at odds with other nations working to end the conflict.
The Trump administration views the opinion, the basis for long-standing U.S. opposition to expanding the settlements, as a distraction and believes any legal questions about the issue should be addressed by Israeli courts, Pompeo said.
“Calling the establishment of civilian settlements inconsistent with international law has not advanced the cause of peace,” Pompeo said. “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.”
U.S. moves that have weakened Palestinian efforts to achieve statehood have included President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the movement of the U.S. Embassy to that city and the closure of the Palestinian diplomatic office in Washington. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ spokesman, Nabil Abu Rdeneh, condemned Pompeo’s announcement and said settlements are illegal under International law. “The U.S. administration has lost its credibility to play any future role in the peace process,” he said.
Even though the decision is largely symbolic, it could give a boost to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is fighting for his political survival after he was unable to form a coalition government following recent elections.
In addition, it could spell further trouble for the administration’s oft-promised peace plan, which is unlikely to gather much international support by endorsing a position contrary to the global consensus.
The Netanyahu government was dealt a blow on settlements just last week when the European Court of Justice ruled products made in Israeli settlements must be labeled as such.
The 1978 legal opinion on settlements is known as the Hansell Memorandum. It had been the basis for more than 40 years of carefully worded U.S. opposition to settlement construction that had varied in its tone and strength depending on the president’s position.
The international community overwhelmingly considers the settlements illegal. This is based in part on the Fourth Geneva Convention, which bars an occupying power from transferring parts of its own civilian population to occupied territory.
In the final days of the Obama administration, the U.S. allowed the U.N. Security Council to pass a resolution declaring the settlements a “flagrant violation” of international law.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at a news conference at the State Department in Washington on Monday.