The Trump administration will no longer regard West Bank Jewish settlement as illegal, another dramatic change that aligns it with Israel’s right-wing government.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in reviewing the history of U.S. policy on settlements, said that since 1978, the United States has regarded settlements as illegal. But, he said, successive presidents have turned a blind eye to some settlement building while condemning other instances.
Pompeo said at a brief news conference Monday on an array of issues that it would now be the U.S. position that “the establishment of Israeli civilian settlements is not per se inconsistent with international law.”
That, in addition to moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, recognizing the Golan Heights as Israeli and cutting aid to the Palestinians, brings the Trump administration closely in line with the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Pompeo emphasized that the recognition would not extend to settlements that Israel’s courts deem illegal and the new position does not prejudge the status of the West Bank.
“Calling the establishment of civilian settlements inconsistent with international law has not advanced the cause of peace,” said Pompeo. “The hard truth is that there will never be a judicial resolution to the conflict, and arguments about who is right and who is wrong as a matter of international law will not bring peace.”
President Donald Trump’s adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has led a team that has drafted a peace plan over the past three years, but it has yet to be released. The Palestinians dropped out of the process in December 2017 after Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Netanyahu in a statement said that the U.S. decision “rights a historical wrong” and Israel “will continue to reject all arguments regarding the illegality of the settlements.”
Blue and White party head Benny Gantz, who is trying to form a government coalition, also applauded the U.S. move.
“The fate of the settlements and the residents of Judea and Samaria should be determined by agreements that meet security requirements and that can promote peace,” he said in a statement.
Travel Warning Issued for Americans
Following the announcement, the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem issued a travel warning for visiting Americans, cautioning them that they could be targets of “individuals and groups opposed to the Secretary of State’s recent announcement.” The warning was directed at Americans visiting or planning to visit Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.
“Potential targets include public events, such as demonstrations, holiday events, and celebratory gatherings; hotels, clubs, and restaurants popular with U.S. citizens; places of worship; schools; shopping malls and markets; tourism infrastructure; public transportation and airports,” the statement said.
The warning recommends that U.S. citizens “carefully consider risks to their personal safety and security at sites and events that are potential targets. In addition, U.S. citizens in the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem should avoid non-essential movements and events that attract attention. U.S. citizens should carefully consider risks to their personal safety and security at sites and events that are potential targets.”
The U.S. government prohibits U.S. government employees to travel to the West Bank, including Jericho and Bethlehem, as well as to the Old City of Jerusalem.