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Buildings demolished by Israel in the West Bank village of Dar Salah
Buildings demolished by Israel in the West Bank village of Dar Salah
Image: SIPA USA/PA Images

US will no longer consider Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territories illegal

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the change in position today.
Nov 18th 2019, 8:43 PM 19,572 64

THE UNITED STATES has announced that it will no longer consider Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory to be illegal, marking a major shift in the country’s foreign policy.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the change in position on Monday, saying the US would overturn a decades-long position that settlements in the occupied West Bank violate international law.

“After carefully studying all sides of the legal debate, this administration agrees… [that the] establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not, per se, inconsistent with international law,” Pompeo said.

Until now, US policy was based on a legal opinion issued by the State Department in 1978, which said that establishing of settlements in the Palestinian territories went against international law.

The international community overwhelmingly considers the settlements illegal, based in part on the Fourth Geneva Convention, which forbids occupying powers from transferring parts of their own civilian population to an occupied territory.

However, the Trump administration views the opinion as a distraction and believes any legal questions about the issue should be addressed by Israeli courts, according to a draft of Pompeo’s remarks on the policy obtained by The Associated Press.

“Calling the establishment of civilian settlements inconsistent with international law has not advanced the cause of peace,” Pompeo says in the draft.

“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.”

pompeo Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at a news conference to make the announcement today Source: Andrew Harnik/PA Images

It follows previous moves by the US administration that have weakened Palestinian efforts to achieve statehood, including Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the US Embassy there.

And although 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.

It could also 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.

European Court of Justice ruling

Israel 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.

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Some 700,000 Israeli settlers live in occupied Palestinian territories which are claimed by the latter for their state.

Israel has never annexed the West Bank, even as it has dotted the territory with scores of settlements and tiny settlement outposts.

While claiming the fate of the settlements is a subject for negotiations, it has steadily expanded them.

Palestinians and most of the world say the settlements undermine hopes for a two-state solution by encroaching on land sought by the Palestinians.

Israel’s settlement activities have also drawn attention to its treatment of Palestinians.

While Jewish settlers can freely enter Israel and vote in Israeli elections, West Bank Palestinians are subject to Israeli military law, require permits to enter Israel and do not have the right to vote in Israeli elections.

With reporting from - © AFP 2019

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Associated Press

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