Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced during a press briefing on Monday that the Trump administration was reversing an Obama-era policy and now does not view Israel’s settlements in the West Bank as a violation of international law.
“Turning now to Israel,” Pompeo said after his opening remarks. “The Trump administration is reversing the Obama administration’s approach towards Israeli settlements. U.S. public statements on settlement activities in the West Bank have been inconsistent over decades.”
“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.”
“After carefully studying all sides of the legal debate, this administration agrees with President Reagan,” Pompeo said. “The establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not, per se, inconsistent with international law.”
“I want to emphasize several important considerations: First, we recognize that as Israeli courts have the legal conclusions relating to individual settlements, must depend on assessments of specific facts and circumstances on the ground,” Pompeo continued. “Therefore, the United States government is expressing no view on the legal status of any individual settlement.”
“The Israeli legal system affords an opportunity to challenge settlement activity and assess humanitarian conditions connected to it,” Pompeo continued. “Israeli courts have confirmed the legality of certain settlement activities and has concluded that others cannot be legally sustained.”
“Second, we’re not addressing or pre-judging the status of the West Bank, this is for the Israelis and the Palestinians to negotiate,” Pompeo added. “International law does not compel a particular outcome or create any legal obstacle to a negotiated resolution.”
“Third, the conclusion that we will no longer recognize Israeli settlements as per se inconsistent with international law is based on the unique facts, history, and circumstances presented by the established civilian settlements in the West Bank,” Pompeo continued. “Our decision today does not prejudice or decide legal conclusions regarding situations in any other parts of the world.”
“And finally, calling the establishment of civilian settlements inconsistent with international law hasn’t worked,” Pompeo concluded. “It hasn’t advanced the cause of peace. The hard truth is, there will never be a judicial resolution to the conflict and arguments about who is right or wrong as a matter of international law will not bring peace. This is a complex political problem that can only be solved by negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The United State 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.”
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