Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday that the U.S. no longer considers civilian Israeli settlements on Palestinian lands to be a violation of international law. This declaration is a historic decision that reverses decades of U.S. policy and supports former President Ronald Reagan’s 1981 assessment that the settlements were not “inherently illegal.”
“After carefully studying all sides of the legal debate… the establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not, per se, inconsistent with international law,” Pompeo said on Monday. “The conclusion that we will no longer recognize as per se inconsistent with international law is based on the unique facts, history, and circumstances prevented by the establishment of civilian settlements in the West Bank.” He also indicated that the decision does not mean the U.S. government is expressing any views on the legal status of any individual settlement or “prejudging the ultimate status of the West Bank.”
Pompeo’s comments refer to an opinion of the State Department in 1978 that formed the foundation of the U.S. legal opinion on Israeli settlements, indicating that civilian settlements in the occupied territories are “inconsistent with international law.”
The State Secretary also said the conclusion was “based on the unique facts, history, and circumstances presented by the establishment of civilian settlements in the West Bank.”
Even though the move is a continuation of President Reagan’s policies, the State Department has indicated that the change could result in a shift that could cause a travel warning to be issued for all U.S. government facilities, U.S. private interests, and U.S. citizens in the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem.
While International law indicates that an occupying power cannot build civilian settlements on occupied territories, the West Bank is viewed to be an occupied territory, which Israel disagrees with.
Two senior European diplomats told CNN that Pompeo’s announcement showed contempt for international law, calling it a “shameful decision that highlights the extent to which the Trump administration has departed from international consensus and is willing to give the finger to international law.”
In contrast, though, the announcement was considered good news by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“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,” Netanyahu said.
The leader said that Pompeo’s statement indicating that it should be up to Israeli courts to decide on legal questions regarding West Bank settlements. “Israel’s legal system, which has proven itself fully capable of addressing legal questions related to the settlements, is the appropriate place for these matters to be adjudicated – not biased international forums that pay no attention to history or facts.”
While in office, Trump has also moved the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in an effort to right the wrongs done to the country.