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Home / World News / US says West Bank settlements do not violate international law

US says West Bank settlements do not violate international law

The secretary of state made clear though the US decision must neither be seen as “green-lighting” new settlements nor as “prejudging” the resolution ultimately of the status of the West Bank.

world Updated: Nov 19, 2019 22:24 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
Palestinian houses and buildings in Jordan Valley in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Palestinian houses and buildings in Jordan Valley in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.(REUTERS Photo)
         

The United States will no longer consider Israeli settlements in the West Bank a violation of international law, the Trump administration has announced, in a move that was swiftly denounced by the Palestinians as “endorsing the law of the jungle”.

“The establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not per se inconsistent with international law,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters Monday, reversing a 2016 decision of the Obama administration determining the settlements as illegal, and reinstating the US position under President Ronald Reagan.

“The hard truth is there will never be a judicial resolution to the conflict,” Pompeo added. “This is a complex political problem that can only be solved by negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians.”

The secretary of state made clear though the US decision must neither be seen as “green-lighting” new settlements nor as “prejudging” the resolution ultimately of the status of the West Bank.

Israel controls 60% of the West Bank, which is home to an estimated 600,000 Jewish settlers. The rest 40% is administered by the Palestinian Authority (PA). But the whole area is under the military control of Israel. Lying to the west of the Jordan river, this territory is at the heart of a potential Palestinian state, and these settlements have been considered an obstacle to a peace deal in the future.

This was the third instance of the Trump administration pushing the United States further towards Israel, abandoning, in some instances, decades-old policies upheld by both Republican and Democratic presidents. It first recognised Jerusalem, a city partly claimed by the Palestinians, as the capital of Israel and shifted its embassy there from Tel Aviv. It then accepted Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which had been annexed from Syria in 1981.

The announcement was widely welcomed in Israel, which is between governments. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told President Donald Trump in a phone call he had “corrected a historic injustice”. He added: “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.”

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the US decision amounted to replacing international law with “law of the jungle”. And he went on to say, “Israeli colonial settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem, are not only illegal under international law, they are war crimes.” The Palestinians have not been talking with the US since Trump moved the US embassy to Jerusalem in 2017.

The new US switch puts it at odds with the EU as well, which renewed its call Monday for Israel to end the settlements, reminding it of its “obligations as an occupying power”.

Russia said the US decision was “another step aimed at scrapping the international legal framework for the Middle East settlement”.

India had not responded to the development till the filing of this report, but it has in the past voted in the UN against these settlements.