The U.S. on Nov. 18 reversed course on its position regarding Israeli settlements built in the occupied West Bank, breaking with over four decades of precedent in saying that they will no longer be viewed as illegal “per se.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the move away from the State Department’s 1978 legal opinion which held that settlements are “inconsistent with international law.”
Pompeo said the opinion does not further the peace process and Washington will no longer take a position on their legality. He said their establishment “is not per se inconsistent with international law.”
“Calling the establishment of civilian settlements inconsistent with international law hasn’t worked, it hasn’t advanced the cause of peace,” Pompeo said in remarks to reporters.
“The hard truth is there will never be a judicial resolution to the conflict, and arguments about who is right and wrong as a matter of international law will not bring peace.”
The Hansell Memorandum had been the foundation for the U.S. position on settlements in the occupied West Bank for over 40 years. It holds that Israel‘s settlements “appear to constitute a ‘transfer of parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies,'” maintaining their inconsistency with international law.
Pompeo said the new policy, which would pertain solely to the West Bank, would be that the U.S. has “no view” on the legal status of individual settlements, and the top diplomat said the U.S. would not prejudge the final status of the West Bank.
“This is for the Israelis and the Palestinians to negotiate,” he said.
The move is highly likely to irk Palestinian officials, who have rejected a role for the U.S. in any prospective peace talks with Israel over the Trump administration’s 2017 decision to unilaterally recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
The U.S. under President Donald Trump has since gone on to close the Palestinians’ diplomatic office in Washington and has relocated its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Israel occupied Jerusalem and the whole of the West Bank following the 1967 Six-Day War and began establishing settlements in the West Bank the following year.
The Trump administration’s decision to move away from the Hansell Memorandum will likely further distance it from allies in Europe.
The EU’s top court ruled last week that products produced in the occupied territories must be marked as such.
The new policy will also further decrease the likelihood that Trump’s long-promised peace plan will gain any traction if and when it is ever released.
That is largely based on the Fourth Geneva Convention, which held in 1949 that an occupying power cannot transfer its civilian population to territories under its control.
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is a leading Democratic nominee ahead of next year’s presidential election, lambasted the Trump administration’s decision, which he said runs counter to international law
“Israeli settlements in occupied territory are illegal. This is clear from international law and multiple United Nations resolutions. Once again, Mr. Trump is isolating the United States and undermining diplomacy by pandering to his extremist base,” Sanders said on Twitter.
Meanwhile, Palestine will seek the holding of an emergency meeting of the Arab foreign ministers to discuss a recent U.S. policy shift on the legality of the Israeli settlements, a senior Palestinian official said on Nov. 19.
On Nov. 18, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank will no longer be viewed as “illegal”.
The U.S. announcement “is dangerous to international security and peace,” Saeb Erekat, the Secretary-General of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)’s Executive Committee, told a press conference in Ramallah.
He said the U.S. position “will open the door for violence, extremism, chaos and bloodshed”.
Erekat said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was holding contacts with a number of countries and international organizations to counter the U.S. announcement.
UN: Change of a policy of a state does not modify the international law
The UN on Nov. 19 reiterated its position that Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories breach international law, as the U.S. make a policy shift on the issue.
Rupert Colville, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, told a news briefing that change of a policy of a state does not modify the international law.
Roughly 650,000 Israeli Jews currently live on more than 100 settlements built since 1967, when Israel occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The Palestinians want these territories along with the Gaza Strip for the establishment of a future Palestinian state.
International law views both the West Bank and East Jerusalem as occupied territories and considers all Jewish settlement-building activity there illegal.
Hurriyet Daily News