US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on Monday that the United States administration has decided to reverse the former Barack Obama government’s policy on Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The settlements will no longer be considered illegal, Pompeo said, according to AFP.
Pompeo referred to past US presidents during his press conference. He said that the administration of Jimmy Carter (1976 to 1980) concluded that the Israeli settlements were inconsistent with international law. “However, in 1981, President [Ronald] Reagan disagreed with that conclusion, and said that the didn’t believe the settlements were inherently illegal,” Pompeo said, according to C-SPAN.
“Subsequent administrations recognised that unrestrained settlement activity could be an obstacle to peace,” Pompeo added. “But they wisely and prudently recognised that dwelling on legal positions didn’t advance peace. However, in December 2016, at the very end of the previous administration, Secretary [of State John] Kerry changed decades of this careful bipartisan approach by publicly reaffirming the supposed illegality of settlements.”
Pompeo said that after careful study of legal matters, the present Donald Trump administration agrees with former President Reagan, that “per se”, the Israeli settlements on the West Bank were not inconsistent with international law. Pompeo added that the US does not consider the settlements legal per se, but it will defer to the verdicts passed by Israeli courts.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the American administration’s change of heart, The Times of Israel reported. “This policy reflects a historical truth – that the Jewish people are not foreign colonialists in Judea and Samaria,” Netanyahu said, referring to the West Bank by its Biblical names.
However, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Spokesperson Nabil Abu Rdeneh, condemned Pompeo’s announcement, saying the settlements are illegal under international law. “The US administration has lost its credibility to play any future role in the peace process,” he said.
Pompeo’s statement is contrary to the positions adopted by most countries on the Israeli settlements’ matter, as well as against several United Nations Security Council resolutions, AFP reported.
In 2017, the Trump administration made a radical break when it recognised Jerusalem, not Tel Aviv, as Israel’s Capital. India was among the 128 members of the 193-member United Nations General Assembly that voted in favour of the resolution calling on the United States to withdraw its decision. President Trump had threatened to cut off financial aid to countries that voted in favour of the resolution.
Jerusalem, which is revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims, is home to Islam’s third holiest site – the al-Aqsa mosque – and has been at the centre of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians for decades. Israel captured East Jerusalem, which predominantly has Arab households, in 1967 and later annexed it in a move that is not recognised internationally.