Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday announced that the United States would no longer treat Israel’s settlements in the West Bank to be a violation of international law. The new position, which reversed decades of U.S. State Department policy, immediately angered Palestinians and is likely to further frustrate any possible peace talks between Israel and Palestine.
“The Trump administration is reversing the Obama administration’s approach toward Israeli settlements,” Pompeo said during a rare press conference on Monday.
“After carefully studying all sides of the legal debate, this administration agrees with President [Ronald] Reagan – the establishment of Israeli settlements in the West Bank is not, per se, inconsistent with international law. Calling the establishment of civilian settlements inconsistent with international law has not advanced the cause of peace,” Pompeo continued. “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.”
Brad Simpson, an associate professor of U.S. foreign relations and international history at the University of Connecticut, called the decision a “radical repudiation” of international law.
“Pompeo’s announcement that US no longer considers Israel’s colonial settlements in the West Bank illegal is a radical repudiation of international law, including the landmark 1949 Geneva Conventions,” he tweeted, along with a link to the State Department’s 1978 legal opinion.
“Countries can invade their neighbors, colonize their land, and US is ok with it (at least for Israel). Astonishing,” he added.
The policy shift is the latest in a series of decisions on Middle East relations from the Trump administration aimed to bolster its support for Israel and its struggling Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
President of the Council on Foreign Relations Richard Haass said that while the move may appear to reinforce U.S. support for Israel, it will only hinder prospects of peace in the region.
“This administration sees itself as Israel’s great friend, but it is not,” the former Director of Policy Planning for the State Department said Monday. “To argue settlements are not inconsistent with international law hastens the day when Israel must choose between being Jewish and being democratic. And it further sets back the already fading [prospects] for peace.”
[image via BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images]