Israeli settlements in West Bank not illegal, says US

In a major policy shift, Washington said on Monday that Israeli settlements in the West Bank are not illegal, news reports say.

The announcement by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, above, was in line with the view held by late President Ronald Reagan.

The change of stance by the Trump administration was greeted by Israeli leaders and settlers and condemned by Palestinians and others.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the policy change has corrected a historical wrong and underscored the truth that Jews are the people of Judea and Samaria and not foreign colonialists as wrongly perceived.

US envoy to Israel David Friedman told Jerusalem Post that the new policy could advance peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Welcoming the US policy shift, leaders representing settlers said this is an opportunity for Israel to annex the territory.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s spokesman said Washington cannot abrogate international decisions and it has no right to legitimise Israeli settlements in West Bank.

Saeb Erekat, the secretary-general of the PLO’s Executive Committee, said the Trump administration is trying to replace international law with the law of the jungle.

Hazem Qassim, a spokesman for the Hamas terror group, condemned Washington’s aggressive stance against the Palestinians and described Israeli settlements as nothing short of war crime.

Pompeo explained the policy shift by saying that Washington’s views on the legality of settlements had been inconsistent over the decades.

The Obama administration facilitated the passing of a UN Security Council Resolution in 2016 that viewed the settlements as a violation of international law.

In 1978, the Carter administration subscribed to a similar view which was rejected by Reagan in 1981.

Pompeo said his country’s policy shift will have no bearing on the status of West Bank which has to be decided by Israel and the Palestinians.
The two sides should begin peace talks as a judicial resolution to end their age-old conflict is impossible, he said.

Pompeo clarified that Monday’s statement is not pertaining to specific settlements and cannot be applied elsewhere. 

He said the shift in policy is based on facts, history and circumstances presented by the establishment of civilian settlements in the West Bank.