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In Major Shift, U.S. Declares West Bank Settlements Do Not Violate International Law

Peter Wade

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday that Israel’s West Bank settlements are not in violation of international law, signaling a shift from longstanding policies of past administrations.

“After carefully studying all sides of the legal debate, this administration agrees with President Reagan: the establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not, per se, inconsistent with international law,” Pompeo told the media at a press conference. Previously, Reagan had said that the settlements were not “inherently illegal.”

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A 1978 legal opinion from the State Department had previously found the settlements in the occupied West Bank were “inconsistent with international law.” In 2008, President George W. Bush called on Israel to end its decades long occupation of Palestinian land saying, “There should be an end to the occupation that began in 1967.” And during a speech to the United Nations back in September 2016 then President Barack Obama said, “Israel must recognize that it cannot permanently occupy and settle Palestinian land.”

Palestinians had hoped to reserve the land for a future Palestinian state, a stance backed by many in the international community. The Trump administration’s move could clear a path for more Israeli settlements in the future, further complicating the search for a peace agreement.

This is just the latest move by the Trump administration as part of their strongly pro-Israel strategy. In December of 2017, Trump formally recognized Jerusalem as the Israeli capital and moved the US embassy there from Tel Aviv. Previously, since 1948, the United States along with almost every other country in the world refused to recognize Jerusalem as the capital.

Trump also recognized Israeli sovereignty over the contested Golan Heights region in March of this year, again breaking ranks with the international community. As part of the announcement, in true Trump fashion, the president signed a map of the area, writing “Nice!” in Sharpie. After the move, Israeli president Benjamin Netanyahu, who narrowly won a recent re-election, called Trump his “great friend” as he announced a new Golan Heights settlement named “Trump Heights.”

Since his election, Trump has promised a peace deal between Israel and Palestine brokered by his son-in-law Jared Kushner, but his proposed “deal of the century” for “economic peace” revealed this summer was largely a flop. And this latest step, which will undoubtedly anger Palestinians, does not seem like progress toward peace.

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