In an announcement on Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo officially reversed decades of U.S. policy on Israel’s expansion of settlements in the territory known as the West Bank. Though there are very good arguments that Israel is the only nation with any legal right to that territory, the U.S. decided in 1978 that the settlements were “inconsistent with international law.” This has been the uncertain and tenuous position of every American administration since – officially condemning Israel for building new settlements.
On Monday, that changed.
The announcement, which breaks with international law and consensus, is the latest in a string of hardline, pro-Israeli moves that are likely to inflame tensions between the Trump administration and Palestinians and widen the divide between the Trump administration and traditional US allies in Europe.
“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,” Pompeo said, citing President Ronald Reagan’s 1981 assessment that the settlements were not “inherently illegal.”
Pompeo said the US government is “expressing no view on the legal status of any individual settlement” or “addressing or prejudging the ultimate status of the West Bank.”
He said the conclusion was “based on the unique facts, history and circumstances presented by the establishment of civilian settlements in the West Bank.”
Predictably, the announcement was met with harsh criticism from groups like The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which released a statement condemning the reversal.
“It is obvious that Donald Trump’s panic over his looming impeachment is motivating him to try to solidify the most extreme parts of his political base,” said CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad. “To reject international law and the rights of the Palestinian people who suffer under an illegal occupation contradicts our nation’s claimed support for justice and human rights.”
Democrats like presidential candidate Bernie Sanders were also critical of the announcement.
“Israeli settlements in occupied territory are illegal,” he tweeted. “This is clear from international law and multiple United Nations resolutions. Once again, Mr. Trump is isolating the United States and undermining diplomacy by pandering to his extremist base.”
Hmm, kinda sounds like Sanders got his talking points straight from CAIR.
Well, if CAIR and Bernie Sanders are against it, there must be some merit to it. And if the best counterpoints are meaningless, biased UN resolutions, then we’d say the Trump administration is on firm ground, legally and morally.