Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on Monday that the Trump administration is changing an Obama-era policy which held that Israeli settlements in the West Bank are a violation of international law.
“The Trump administration is reversing the Obama administration’s approach towards Israeli settlements,” Pompeo said at a news briefing from the State Department.
“U.S. public statements on settlement activities in the West Bank have been inconsistent over decades,” he continued.
“In 1978, the Carter administration categorically concluded that Israel’s establishment of civilian settlements was inconsistent with international law,” Pompeo said. “However, in 1981, President Reagan disagreed with that conclusion and stated that he didn’t believe that the settlements were inherently illegal.”
“The Trump administration is reversing the Obama administration’s approach towards Israeli settlements,” Pompeo announces. The U.S. will no longer view them as inconsistent with international law https://t.co/gywPb6ga1W pic.twitter.com/Z2lxbDTKpI
— CBS News (@CBSNews) November 18, 2019
Pompeo went on to recount that following Reagan’s time in office, “subsequent administrations recognized that unrestrained settlement activity could be an obstacle to peace,” but did not focus on the legality of the matter.
In the closing days of the Obama administration in December 2016, Secretary of State John Kerry took the United States back to the Carter policy of holding that Israeli settlements in the West Bank are illegal.
“After carefully studying all sides of the legal debate, this administration agrees with President Reagan,” Pompeo said. “The establishment of Israeli civilian 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,” he added, according to The Times of Israel.
The Israel Defense Forces moved into the territory and also seized the Golan Heights from Syria and the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula from Egypt.
The Sinai was later returned to Egypt as part of the 1978 Camp David Accords.
As a result of the Oslo Accords in 1993, Israel granted some self-government to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and portions of the West Bank.
Israeli leaders, however, including current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have stated that the country cannot cede complete control of the territory, given the militarily strategic nature of the areas in question.
In December 2017, the president also recognized Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state and directed the U.S. embassy be moved there.
The Associated Press reported that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ spokesman, Nabil Abu Rdeneh, condemned Pompeo’s announcement.
“The U.S. administration has lost its credibility to play any future role in the peace process,” Rdeneh said.
The Palestinians envision the West Bank being part of a future independent Palestinian state.
Netanyahu applauded the Trump administration’s move, tweeting a “historic injustice” has been corrected.
I spoke on the phone with US President Donald Trump and told him that he had corrected a historic injustice
Somebody needed to say a simple truth, and President Trump did this, just as he did with the recognition of the Golan Heights and the moving of the US embassy to Jerusalem
— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) November 18, 2019
David Rubin — former mayor of the West Bank community of Shiloh and author of “Trump and the Jews” — called the Trump administration’s decision “a political bombshell in the Middle East, in effect backing the majority of Israelis who want their government to declare Israeli sovereignty over Judea and Samaria.”
“Israelis are once again praising the Trump administration,” he added.
Former Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked lauded the Trump administration’s decision.
The Jewish People have the legal & moral right to live in their ancient homeland
Now is the time to apply our sovereignty to these communities
— איילת שקד ayelet shaked (@Ayelet__Shaked) November 18, 2019
“Thank you Pres @realDonaldTrump & @SecPompeo for recognizing that there is nothing illegal about Jewish communities in Judea & Samaria,” she tweeted.
“The Jewish People have the legal & moral right to live in their ancient homeland,” she added. “Now is the time to apply our sovereignty to these communities.”
The Times of Israel reported that approximately 700,000 Israelis live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
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