November 20, 2019

Israeli Settlements

“The Trump administration on Monday said it no longer considers Israeli settlements in the West Bank to be a violation of international law… Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the U.S. is repudiating the 1978 State Department legal opinion that held that civilian settlements in the occupied territories are ‘inconsistent with international law.’” AP News

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From the Left

The left opposes the decision, arguing that it will make a peace deal harder to achieve, but recognizes that the change is mainly symbolic.

“The policy shift has been on the short list of items certain Trump backers want very much — and the president needs to keep those supporters close to weather both the impeachment inquiry and his reelection campaign. The move is all about strengthening the alliance between Trump, so-called Christian Zionist Evangelicals, and a small segment of American Jewish voters and donors… Trump is burnishing his credentials with paleoconservatives — who see international law as a conspiracy to harm the U.S. — and betting others will shrug as long as he wraps this unpopular policy in Reaganism… Pompeo assured us that the Trump administration has analyzed ‘all sides of the legal debate.’ But he cited no specific legal argument.”
Heather Hurlburt, New York Magazine

“While the announcement has no immediate policy implications, it does send a pretty clear message to Israeli settlers and its government: go ahead and keep moving en masse into land that the Palestinians might want as a home for their future state… The decision comes at a particularly fraught time in both US and Israeli politics. The Trump administration has been fighting back against impeachment charges fueled by the testimony of State Department officials; Netanyahu’s hold on power is extremely tenuous, as he’s trying to scuttle an opposition party’s ongoing attempt to form a new government without him. It’s hardly a big leap to see this as an attempt by Pompeo to both distract from the Ukraine situation and give the administration’s buddy in Jerusalem an accomplishment he can use to shore up political support.”
Zack Beauchamp, Vox

“This measure is the latest of the administration’s efforts to destroy the international rules-based order. The declaration is symbolic rather than practical. The settlements remain illegal; Mr Trump’s fiat does not change international law… It is true that settlements have flourished regardless of international strictures, and that previous US governments have done little more than scold. Settlements grew exponentially while Barack Obama was president. But the US eventually grew so exasperated that it allowed through a UN security council resolution demanding a halt to all construction in the occupied territories…

“The administration has not only broken with decades of policy but with most allies. The European Union was quick to reaffirm that all settlement activity is illegal, that it erodes the viability of the two-state solution and the prospects for a lasting peace, and that it should be ended… The predictability of this announcement makes it more disgraceful, not less. It does not merely recognise the facts on the ground, as Mike Pompeo claimed. It encourages further expansion and annexation, as the welcome from pro-settlement politicians and campaigners has demonstrated.”
Editorial Board, The Guardian

“The announcement by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday that the United States no longer views Israeli settlements on the West Bank as necessarily violating international law has done little to change the essential insecurity on both sides of the conflict’s front line. While experts debated whether the announcement gave Israel a green light to annex parts of the West Bank or flouted established international law, the only practical effect in the West Bank on Tuesday was a subtle shift in morale: It left Israeli settlers feeling slightly more confident and Palestinians slightly more depressed.”
David M. Halbfinger, New York Times

“The United States was never entirely credible as a mediator in this conflict, given its close relationship with Israel. But until Donald Trump, every recent U.S. president sought to broker negotiations for a Palestinian state. That era now seems to have passed. Trump has sided with [Israel] on key issues about the status of the West Bank, Golan Heights and Jerusalem… The United States is now implicitly endorsing a one-state solution — forcing Israel to make an agonizing decision about whether to deny full rights to the Arab residents of that state. Perhaps Israelis will rebel against making this choice and revive the possibility of a Palestinian state. Or perhaps Arabs, exhausted by this conflict, will induce Palestinians to accept defeat… and something less than statehood.”
David Ignatius, Washington Post

From the Right

The right supports the decision, arguing that it is legally correct and acknowledges the facts on the ground.

The right supports the decision, arguing that it is legally correct and acknowledges the facts on the ground.

“The four-page 1978 memo [written by the State Department stating that the settlements were illegal]... painted with broad strokes across several issues and cited no precedent for its key conclusions. Most important, its legal analysis of occupation and settlements has never been applied, by the U.S. or anyone else, to any other comparable situation… Even on its own terms, the memo’s conclusions no longer apply. Because occupation is part of the law of war, Hansell wrote, the state of occupation would end if Israel entered into a peace treaty with Jordan. In 1994 Jerusalem and Amman signed a full and unconditional peace treaty...

“[Furthermore] even if there were an occupation, the notion that it creates an impermeable demographic bubble around the territory—no Jew can move in—has no basis in the history or application of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Almost every prolonged occupation since 1949—from the Allies’ 40-year administration of West Berlin to Turkey’s 2016 occupation of northern Syria—has seen population movement into the occupied territory. In none of these cases has the U.S., or the United Nations, ever claimed a violation of this Geneva Convention provision. Mr. Pompeo’s action shows the U.S. understands that we can’t have one international law for one country and another for the rest of the world.”
Eugene Kontorovich, Wall Street Journal

“Judea and Samaria, the lands currently in dispute, were part of the initial borders of the Jewish state created by the League of Nations Mandate partition in 1922. Jordan conquered Judea and Samaria from Israel in Israel’s War of Independence, a war of aggression launched by Jordan… The recapture of Judea and Samaria was under the auspices of Article 51 of the UN Charter, which allows a nation state to defend itself and, among a host of scholars, has also been recognized as asserting that self-defense may necessitate the non-aggressor assume control over territory previously held by the aggressor.”
Erielle Davidson, The Federalist

“Many of [the] ‘settlements’ — cities, really, some of them in existence for decades — are part of a de facto border, and they are never going to be bulldozed… The Trump administration’s new position doesn’t mean that Israeli tanks will be rolling into the West Bank and annexing Hebron, as hysterical progressives seem to believe. Israel has never eyed appropriation of Arab population centers. It’s done everything it can to allow responsible Arab self-governance. (Hey, when was the last election in the West Bank?) What it does mean, as Pompeo clearly states, is that final-status negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians will be predicated no longer on a fantasy of ‘occupation’ but rather on the reality of disputed land.”
David Harsanyi, National Review

“Successive American, Israeli, and Palestinian Authority governments have recognized that a final status two-state solution will involve the formal recognition of some Israeli settlements in the West Bank as part of Israel proper. This is not a controversial point. What is controversial is which settlements and how much territory Israel will end up receiving under a final status deal and which territory a future Palestinian state will receive… however, Pompeo makes clear that this ‘ultimate status’ is ‘for Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate.’... Yes, it will spark Palestinian fury. But it does not change the reality of what both sides accept will be the underlining of a future peace deal: reciprocal land swaps.
Tom Rogan, Washington Examiner

Some critics argue that “the failure of U.S. policy here has been to call settlements illegal but then do nothing about their ongoing expansion. If the U.S. had taken its own position seriously decades ago, it is possible that there would be a better basis for a negotiated settlement. As things stand now, the U.S. has allowed Israel to establish ‘facts on the ground’ to their advantage and now the Trump administration is approving of the results… Needless to say, reflexively backing Israel at all times has not advanced the cause of peace, and the continued expropriation of Palestinian land certainly doesn’t advance the cause of peace, but then they were never intended to.”
Daniel Larison, The American Conservative

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