On 18th November 2019, the U.S. Secretary of State made an explosive announcement regarding its policy on Israel. His precise words were: “After carefully studying all sides of the legal debate, the United States has concluded that the establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not, per se, inconsistent with international law.”
That seems like quite a change from what the US has been saying for decades, doesn’t it?
Yes. The US has in the past, maintained that the Israeli settlements in the West Bank are ‘illegitimate’. They have been cautious not to say ‘illegal’ as that would make them subject to international sanctions (economic penalties). In another move that veered towards indicating that they disapproved of the settlements, President Obama did not veto a UN resolution aiming to end settlements.
Hmm. Remind me again about the issue of the settlement?
In the Six-Day War of 1967, Israel took control of the West Bank from the Palestinians. Today, more than 600,000 Israelis live in the territory along with close to 3 million Palestinians. In fact, the Israelis have been encouraged by Mr Trump’s support and have built even more settlements.
Trump supported Israel on the Jerusalem issue too right?
Yes. Two years ago, he recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. This issue of the city was supposed to be resolved between the Israelis and the Palestinians [Read more on this here].The President has also slashed monetary aid to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) that supports Palestinian refugees.
What does this policy mean for everyone?
Well, it makes America’s ties stronger with Israel. But it is hugely damaging to a peaceful two-state solution between Israel and Palestine that world leaders and the United Nations have been working towards for aeons!
The Palestinians are of course, furious. They have unilaterally condemned the move.
Here are some of the reactions from others::
Jordan: Foreign minister, Ayman Safadi, stated this will have “dangerous consequences” on the prospects of reviving the Middle East peace process. He tweeted that Israeli settlements in the territory were illegal and killed chances of a two-state solution in which a Palestinian state would exist side-by-side with Israel.
US Campaign for Palestinian rights, Director, Yousef Munayyer, said this is ‘another gift to Netanyahu (Israeli leader) and a green light to Israeli leaders to put settlement building further into overdrive and advance formal annexation”.
UN’s Human Rights Office (OHCHR) – A spokesperson stated that it “shares the UN’s long-standing position on the issue that Israeli settlements are in breach of international law.”
The European Union – EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement, “The EU calls on Israel to end all settlement activity, in line with its obligations as an occupying power,”
Human Rights Watch – Kenneth Roth, Executive Director, tweeted: “Pompeo’s fictional statement changes nothing. Trump can’t wipe away with this announcement decades of established international law that Israel’s settlements are a war crime.”
At the moment, the US is sticking to its position. For the millions of civilians involved, only time will tell what the fallout of this decision will be.
Written by: Pereena Lamba. Pereena is a freelance writer, editor and creative consultant. She is also co-author of Totally Mumbai.