The Trump administration’s announcement that Israel’s settlements in the occupied West Bank are not “inconsistent with international law” has been met with widespread condemnation and rejection, with one Palestinian leader calling it “a threat to global stability, security, and peace.”
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday the Trump administration believes “that what we’ve done today has recognised the reality on the ground,” rolling back decades of policy in Washington.
“The establishment of Israeli civilian settlements is not, per se, inconsistent with international law,” Pompeo told reporters.
The EU responded emphatically to Pompeo’s announcement: “All settlement activity is illegal under international law, and calls on Israel to end all settlement activity, in line with its obligations as an occupying power.”
The move throws out a 1978 State Department legal opinion that stated that Israeli settlements violate international law.
“International law and system clearly define the illegality of all Israeli settlements, including by the International Court of Justice, the UN Security Council, and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
“Under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, Israel’s long-standing settlement policy in occupied Palestine falls within the definition of war crimes,” said Palestine’s chief negotiator Saeb Erekat.
Pompeo’s announcement comes after a series of staunchly pro-Israel measures taken by US President Donald Trump since he came into office, including the much derided decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
‘”The EU position on Israeli settlement policy in the occupied Palestinian territory is clear and remains unchanged: all settlement activity is illegal under international law and it erodes the viability of the two-state solution and the prospects for a lasting peace, as reaffirmed by UN Security Council Resolution 2334,” EU Foreign Affairs Chief Federica Mogherini
Trump also recognised Israel’s hold on the occupied Syrian Golan Heights in March, a move that drew international criticism and raised fears that the US administration would green-light Israel’s annexation of the occupied Palestinian territories.
Under the Fourth Geneva Convention, to which the US is a signatory, an occupying power cannot move its civilian population into territory it occupies.
There are approximately 200 official Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, with around 620,000 residents, according to Israeli human rights group B’Tselem.
The group said on Monday that the Trump administration’s “farcical announcement doesn’t just green-light Israel’s illegal settlement project, but also other human rights violations around the world by obliterating the principles of international law.”
The move also pushes “the world over 70 years backwards,” B’Tselem said.
Erekat further described the move as “irresponsible” and “a threat to global stability, security, and peace.”
“Once again, with this announcement, the Trump administration is demonstrating the extent to which it’s [threatening] the international system,” Erekat added in his statement.
Russia described the US policy reversal on Israeli settlements as an attempt to undermine conflict resolution efforts, while Turkey said “no country is above international law.“
“Fait accompli style declarations shall have no validity with respect to international law, said Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.
Israel’s settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories amount to a violation of international humanitarian law, human rights groups have widely documented.
“Israel’s long-running policy of settling civilians in occupied territory is considered a war crime under the statute of the International Criminal Court,” Amnesty International said.
“That this is predictable doesn’t make it any less infuriating,” added Omar Baddar, deputy director of the Arab American Institute, a Washington-based advocacy group.
Baddar said “it would be more honest” for the Trump administration to “announce that they consider Israel to be above the law and be done.”