US soft­ens po­si­tion on Is­raeli set­tle­ments

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - FRONT PAGE - By Matthew Lee

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.

AN­DREW HARNIK — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo speaks at a news con­fer­ence at the State Depart­ment in Wash­ing­ton on Mon­day.

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