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United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has announced that the U.S. will shift its position on Israeli Settlements in the West Bank, and no longer view them as a violation of international law. The move is a break from the established stance of most U.S. allies, and comes as a reversal of the 1978 U.S. State Department declaration that the settlements were inconsistent with international law.
In his statement, Mike Pompeo insisted that the status of the West Bank was for the Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate themselves. In his announcement, Pompeo stated that “calling the establishment of civilian settlements inconsistent with international law hasn’t worked,” adding “it hasn’t advanced the cause of peace.” Pompeo went as far as to suggest the move provided “the very space for Israelis and Palestinians to come together to find a political solution.” Chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said the move stood as a risk to “global stability, security, and peace.” Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu greeted the move with immense praise, saying that the announcement “rights a historical wrong” and finally recognised the “reality on the ground.”
The U.S. move comes as yet another in a string of pro-Israeli policy changes that have been made under President Trump’s administration. Contrary to what Pompeo stated, such actions have led to an immense deterioration in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, as well as a general destabilisation of the region more broadly as a result of other policy reversals such as the tearing up of the Iran Nuclear Deal. The establishment of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank remains one of the most contentious issues in the conflict, as their presence there essentially ensures that a two-state solution will be untenable. More broadly, such pro-Israel policies implemented by Trump underscore the extent to which monied politics interferes with America’s foreign policy, and thus impedes the Middle Eastern peace process. Such policies are not the result of goodwill on the part of President Trump, but are rather the culmination of extensive lobbying efforts on behalf of pro-Israel organisations and individuals within the United States. One of the biggest single donors to President Trump’s campaign is Sheldon Adelson, who has pledged more than $25 million, and claimed his sole motivation has been to influence U.S. policy to favour Israel. This is not to mention the $22 million which was spent by pro-Israel lobbyists to fund U.S. political campaigns in 2018 alone. As per official statistics, the majority of U.S. politicians—regardless of party affiliation—receive contributions from pro-Israel groups.
The West Bank region has been occupied by Israel ever since 1967, following its victory in the Six-Day War. Currently, a growing population of 600,000 Israelis live in settlements in the West Bank, as compared with 3 million Palestinians. Since Trump’s entry into office, a sharp uptick in settlement planning and construction has already taken place, and this most recent decision will almost certainly embolden the movement to expand Jewish settlements in the region.
The ascension of President Trump and his unprecedented pro-Israeli moves have all but sealed what was already a doomed two-state solution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. Evidently, the position which the U.S. is supposed to play as a mediator in the conflict is greatly undermined by the pernicious influence which pro-Israeli lobbyists are able to wield over U.S. politicians. In the face of millions of dollars in campaign contributions, there is little chance that a peaceful solution will be reached which will be in any way beneficial for the Palestinian people.