On 18th November, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the Trump administration no longer considers Israel’s settlements illegal, no longer abiding by the longstanding 1978 State Department’s legal opinion that the settlements on Palestinian territory are against international law. Clearly signalling disinterest in a future Palestinian state, the Trump administration’s unprecedented position steeply challenges common interpretation of international law, the U.S.’ historic approaches to this issue, and the international community’s view.
The announcement was met with swift repudiation by the UN, the EU, the Arab League, and the “hard-core” Israeli left. Minister Riad Malki affirms that the Palestinian state condemns this “lawless position,” in addition to the U.S.’ “endeavor to empower and legitimize the Israeli colonial-settler agenda.” Pompeo’s announcement, he adds, “proves beyond any doubt that the current U.S. administration has aligned itself with Israel’s illegal colonial enterprise.” Philippe Nassif, Amnesty International U.S.A.’s advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa, contended that Pompeo’s statement will not change the law, despite the Trump’s administration’s belief – and pronouncement – that they are above it. Analysts are in common consensus that this will further embolden the settlement movement and may fend off potential legal moves against Israel. By giving Israel the green light to proceed with these violations, the U.S. is endangering the Palestinians in the OWB.
However, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is currently indicted with corruption charges, hails the decision as one that “rights a historical wrong.” He has also welcomed Pompeo’s assertion that Israeli courts are the more appropriate place for the West Bank settlement’s matters to be adjudicated, rather than “biased international forums that pay no attention to history or facts.” Last Monday, Pompeo called for Israel and Palestine to negotiate by themselves, despite the U.S.’ continued efforts to facilitate peace between both sides. He justifies his announcement with the impotence of “calling the establishment of civilian settlements inconsistent with international law,” as he claims it has not advanced the cause for peace in this “complex political problem.” The implausibility of a judicial resolution, he adds, as the question of which side is right or wrong as a matter of international law, “will not bring peace.”
Despite the 2004 ICJ’s advisory ruling and several UN Security Council resolutions’ judgment of the settlements as illegal, Israel and some defenders contend otherwise. Insisting that it is “disputed” rather than “occupied” territory, Israelis voluntarily moving into the West Bank, therefore, is not a “population transfer” under the Geneva Conventions’ terms. However, Saeb Erekat, the PLO’s executive committee’s secretary general, asserts that “Israeli settlements steal Palestinian land, seize and exploit Palestinian natural resources, and divide, displace and restrict their movement.” He prompts that Israel’s colonial-settlement enterprise perpetuates the negation of the Palestinians’ right to self-determination, and more importantly, ignores Palestinian territory claims.
While Pompeo’s reckless announcement holds no legal validity, it threatens to normalize not only Israeli war crimes, but the admissibility of acquiring territory by force. As Shibley Telhami, professor at the University of Maryland, states, “It’s just saying the powerful win and the weak party loses; there’s no reference to legality or justice, it’s all about who is powerful, who controls.” He urges us to “think about the signal that sends to the rest of the world.”
The permanent denial of the Palestinian people’s rights to self-determination must not be ignored. The international community must hold the Trump administration accountable for endorsing the results of annexation’s crimes. The Israeli settlements’ detrimental consequences for the survival and autonomy of millions of Palestinians must be treated as they are, and no less – indisputable facts. Nations must exert collective pressure on Israel and its supporters, to hold them accountable for violent terrorization, land-stealing, destruction of property, and imprisoning entire Palestinian communities.
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