Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has announced that the Trump administration doesn’t consider Israel’s settlements in the West Bank as a violation of international law.
In a rare press conference on Monday, Nov. 18, Pompeo said, “The Trump administration is reversing the Obama administration’s approach toward Israeli settlements. U.S. public statements on settlement activities in the West Bank have been inconsistent over decades.”
Although the Israeli government supports the move, it has brought strong condemnation from Palestinian officials. “The U.S. administration has lost its credibility to play any future role in the peace process,” said Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, reported The Associated Press.
In his announcement to reporters at the State Department, Pompeo said legal matters regarding Israeli settlements need to be resolved in the Israeli courts. “Calling the establishment of civilian settlements inconsistent with international law has not advanced the cause of peace,” Pompeo said.
“The hard truth is that there will never be a judicial resolution to the conflict, and arguments about who is right and who is wrong as a matter of international law will not bring peace.”
Pompeo stated the 1978 State Department legal opinion, known as the Hansell Memorandum, that holds that civilian settlements in the occupied territories are “inconsistent with international law,” is now revoked.
“In 1978, the Carter administration categorically concluded that Israel’s establishment of civilian settlements was inconsistent with international law,” Pompeo continued. “However, in 1981, President Reagan disagreed with that conclusion and stated that he didn’t believe that the settlements were inherently illegal.”
“Subsequent administrations recognized that unrestrained settlement activity could be an obstacle to peace, but they wisely and prudently recognized that dwelling on legal positions didn’t advance peace,” Pompeo continued. “However, in December 2016, at the very end of the previous administration, Secretary Kerry changed decades of this careful bipartisan approach by publicly reaffirming the supposed illegality of settlements.”
Pompeo said, “After carefully studying all sides of the legal debate, this administration agrees with President Reagan.” “The establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not, per se, inconsistent with international law,” he added.
Pompeo commented that the United States would not take a position on the legality of specific settlements, that the new policy would not extend beyond the West Bank, and that it would not create a precedent for other territorial disputes.
“The United States remains deeply committed to helping facilitate peace, and I will do everything I can to help this cause. The United States encourages the Israelis and Palestinians to resolve the status of settlements in the West Bank in any final status negotiations, and further, we encourage both sides to find a solution that promotes and protects the security and welfare of Palestinians and Israelis alike,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report