THE Trump administration has abandoned a 41-year policy that held Israeli settlements in the West Bank to be illegal.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that US statements on the issue had been inconsistent, and that it should be addressed in an Israeli court.
The Trump administration has announced it no longer considers Israeli settlements on the West Bank to be illegal[/caption]
The West Bank makes up 95 percent of the Palestinian occupied territories[/caption]
The establishment of settlements in the West Bank has been a contentious issue central to the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict.
The West Bank and the Gaza Strip together make up the Palestinian territories that have been occupied by Israel since the Six-Day War in 1967.
The West Bank is by far the larger of the two parts, making up around 95 per cent of Palestinian territory.
The building of Israeli settlements on the West Bank is considered illegal by the United Nations, the European Union, and the International Court of Justice as well as the British government.
Several resolutions by the UN Security Council say the settlements violate the Fourth Geneva Conventions, which prohibits an occupying power from transferring its population to the area it occupies.
Since a legal opinion issued by the State Department in 1978, the US has also officially considered them illegal, but the current administration has now changed that position.
The West Bank and the Israel-Palestine conflict
Israel captured the West Bank and east Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 war.
Over 2.5 million Palestinians now live in occupied territories, in addition to nearly 700,000 Jewish settlers.
Israel already has annexed east Jerusalem in a move that is not internationally recognised.
The international community, along with the Palestinians, overwhelmingly considers Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem illegal.
Palestinians want to establish a state in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.
Peace talks between the two sides have been at a standstill since 2014, when a US-brokered attempt to reach a deal collapsed.
Donald Trump hopes to kick-start the process with a plan being worked on by son-in-law Jared Kushner.
The plan is made up of an economic portion, involving of $50 billion investment fund to be spent mostly in the Palestinian territories, and a political portion, which is expected to be unveiled in the coming months.
The announcement on Israeli settlements in the West Bank is the second occasion on which the Trump administration has publicly sided with Israel on a major ponit of contention.
In 2017, the president announced that the US would thereafter recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and in 2018 opened a new embassy in the city.
Speaking on Monday, Pompeo said: “The Trump administration is reversing the Obama administration’s approach towards Israeli settlements.
“US public statements on settlement activities in the West Bank have been inconsistent over decades.”
He went on to cite the conflicting positions of the Carter administration, which considered the settlements illegal, and the Reagan administration, which said they were not “inherently illegal”.
“Calling the establishment of civilian settlements inconsistent with international law has not advanced the cause of peace,” Pompeo continued.
“This is a complex political problem that can only be solved by negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians.”
Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the decision, saying: “Today, the United States adopted an important policy that rights a historical wrong when the Trump administration clearly rejected the false claim that Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria are inherently illegal under international law.”
The announcement will be seen as a boost to Netanyahu, who has taken an increasingly hard line on the settlements in recent months in a bid to bolster his support within Israel.
He is currently battling to stay in power after two successive elections earlier this year failed to deliver conclusive results, and is also facing the possibility of a criminal indictment in three corruption probes.
Palestinian leaders condemned the Trump administration’s announcement.
Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization Executive Committee said the Trump administration was seeking “to replace international law with the ‘law of the jungle’” and called on the international community to “take all necessary measures to respond [to] and deter this irresponsible US behaviour.”
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“Israeli settlements steal Palestinian land, seize and exploit Palestinian natural resources, and divide, displace and restrict the movement of the people of Palestine,” he said.
“In sum, Israel’s colonial-settlement enterprise perpetuates the negation of the Palestinian right to self-determination.”