Middle East: U.S. green-lights Israeli settlements
Apparently “international law doesn’t matter anymore,” said Gulf News (United Arab Emirates) in an editorial. In a shocking reversal, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this week rescinded a 1978 State Department legal opinion that concluded Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank were incompatible with international jurisprudence. Some 400,000 Jewish settlers now live alongside more than 2.6 million Palestinians in the West Bank, which Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 Six-Day War. Pompeo said the U.S. was simply recognizing “the reality on the ground” and that the U.S. government was not “prejudging the ultimate status of the West Bank.” Never mind that the Jewish colonies are a blatant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits occupiers from transferring their own people to land taken in war. Coming after a string of gifts to Israel—including the relocation of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, the eastern part of which Palestinians want as their future capital—the Trump administration has driven “the final nail in the coffin” of the two-state solution.
A historic wrong has been righted, said Caroline Glick in Israel Hayom (Israel). The “false charge” that our settlements in ancestral Judea and Samaria are illegal has been the basis for countless United Nations resolutions condemning Israel. The European Union has used our presence there “to justify hostile, discriminatory” policies against Israel—last week, EU judges ruled that food products from Israeli settlements should be labeled as such so European consumers can easily boycott them. That the Trump administration chose this moment to change its stance is a “slap in the face” to the EU.
But what America gives, America can also take away, said Dania Koleilat Khatib in Arab News (Saudi Arabia). In the U.S., “opposition to settlements and to Israel’s aggression is becoming more and more part of the mainstream discourse.” A poll from April found that only 26 percent of Democrats view Israel’s government favorably, and many top Democratic presidential candidates—including Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg—didn’t attend this year’s pro-Israel AIPAC conference in Washington. U.S. policy on Israel could change rapidly if Trump is removed from office next year.
Here’s what the U.S.’s policy reversal means: nothing, said Noa Landau in Haaretz (Israel). Settlements will continue to be built, and the rest of the world will keep calling them illegal. So why did President Donald Trump want this big announcement? Some Israelis think it was meant to aid Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to assemble a right-wing government after an inconclusive election. But U.S. sources say it was driven by concerns closer to home. Some of Trump’s evangelical supporters believe the Second Coming will occur after the Jews return to all of historical Israel. The reversal of U.S. settlements policy, the thinking goes, could speed that up. And with a presidential election coming in 2020, Trump needs to keep his evangelical base energized. ■