In a Monday statement, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Washington no longer regards Israeli settlements in the West Bank as violating international law, reversing the Obama administration’s position and taking no legal position on the question or that of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank itself.
Pompeo announced the US would repudiate its previous legal opinion on the status of the settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The US will no longer adopt a position on the legality of those settlements, breaking with the Obama administration’s decision that they did violate international law.
The settlements are home to more than 600,000 Israelis, who live mostly in settlements scattered across the territories, which Israel seized from Jordan in 1967 in the so-called Six-Day War.
However, the West Bank is also home to 2.7 million Palestinian Arabs, with another 327,000 living in East Jerusalem, most of whom live under military occupation amid the Israeli settlements.
Since 1978, the Legal Adviser of the Department of State has regarded Israeli civilian settlements in the occupied territories as explicitly contravening the Fourth Geneva Convention. However, when President Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, he reversed that decision; Pompeo indicated Monday the US was returning to the Reagan-era position.
“There will never be a judicial resolution” to the conflict, Pompeo said, noting it can only be solved by negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians.
However, the Trump administration has previously recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a position also opposed by the United Nations. Pompeo clarified the US was taking no position on the “final status” of the boundaries of the city.
The US “deal of the century” peace plan, forwarded earlier this year by White House adviser Jared Kushner, has tried to disentangle the 70-year-long conflict with economic incentives.
The United Nations has regarded the settlements as illegal, with numerous resolutions denouncing both the Israeli occupation as well as the civilian settlement of those lands as unquestionably illegal, calling on Israel to abandon the projects.
In recent months, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pledged to push forward with incorporating the West Bank settlements into Israel proper, a move widely interpreted as a prelude to annexation. Netanyahu said Monday the US move “rights a historical wrong.”
Israel’s foreign minister praised Pompeo’s comments, saying Israel welcomes the US decision and thanking the Trump administration for its support. However, the Jordanian foreign minster denounced the decision, warning of “dangerous consequences” if the US changed its position on Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
Saab Erekat, the Palestinian Authority’s diplomat, likewise decried “irresponsible US behavior,” and a spokesperson for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the move “contradicts totally with international law.”
Following Pompeo’s announcement, the US embassy in Jerusalem issued a travel warning for Jerusalem as well as the West Bank and Gaza Strip, all Palestinian-majority areas.