In shift, US says it no longer believes Israeli settlements are illegal
Washington DC/Jerusalem: In a major policy shift, the Trump administration has said that it no longer believes the Israeli settlements in the West Bank are illegal, asserting that the previous opinion that such structures were inconsistent with international law has not helped the peace process in the Middle East.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made the announcement on Monday, drawing praise from Israelis and condemnation from the Palestinians.
"After carefully studying all sides of the legal debate," the United States "believes the establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not per se inconsistent with international law," he said.
"Calling the establishment of civilian settlements inconsistent with international law hasn't worked. It hasn't advanced the cause of peace," Pompeo said, referring to the stalled peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
According to the BBC, nearly 600,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel's occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 1967. The settlements are widely considered illegal under international law. The Palestinians have long called for the removal of all settlements.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the decision, saying "the US adopted an important policy that rights a historical wrong when the Trump administration clearly rejected the false claim that Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria (a term for the West Bank) are inherently illegal under international law." The US decision was the latest of "unceasing attempts to replace international law with the 'law of the jungle,'" Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, was quoted as saying by the New York Times.