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US Angers Palestinians Over Settlements11/19 06:18

   The Trump administration on Monday said it no longer considers Israeli 
settlements in the West Bank to be a violation of international law, reversing 
four decades of American policy and further undermining the Palestinians' 
effort to gain statehood.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Trump administration on Monday said it no longer 
considers Israeli settlements in the West Bank to be a violation of 
international law, reversing four decades of American policy and further 
undermining the Palestinians' effort to gain statehood.

   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." Israeli leaders 
welcomed the decision while Palestinians and other nations warned that it 
undercut any chance of a broader peace deal.

   Pompeo told reporters at the State Department that the Trump administration 
believes any legal questions about settlements should be resolved by Israeli 
courts and that declaring them a violation of international law distracts from 
larger efforts to negotiate a peace deal.

   "Calling the establishment of civilian settlements inconsistent with 
international law has not advanced the cause of peace," Pompeo said. "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."

   The change reflects the administration's embrace of a hard-line Israeli view 
at the expense of the Palestinian quest for statehood. Similar actions have 
included President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's 
capital, the movement of the U.S. Embassy to that city and the closure of the 
Palestinian diplomatic office in Washington.

   "The U.S. administration has lost its credibility to play any future role in 
the peace process," said Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a spokesman for Palestinian 
President Mahmoud Abbas.

   The European Union warned of the potential repercussions in a statement 
following the announcement that did not mention the U.S.

   "All settlement activity is illegal under international law and it erodes 
the viability of the two-state solution and the prospects for a lasting peace," 
said the statement from the 28-nation bloc. "The EU calls on Israel to end all 
settlement activity, in line with its obligations as an occupying power."

   Even though the decision is largely symbolic, it could give a boost to 
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is fighting for his political 
survival after failing to form a coalition government following recent 
elections.

   It could also spell further trouble for the administration's peace plan, 
which is unlikely to gather much international support by endorsing a position 
contrary to the global consensus.

   The Netanyahu government was dealt a blow on settlements just last week when 
the European Court of Justice ruled products made in Israeli settlements must 
be labeled as such.

   The 1978 legal opinion on settlements is known as the Hansell Memorandum. It 
had been the basis for more than 40 years of carefully worded U.S. opposition 
to settlement construction that had varied in its tone and strength, depending 
on the president's position.

   The international community overwhelmingly considers the settlements illegal 
based in part on the Fourth Geneva Convention, which bars an occupying power 
from transferring parts of its own civilian population to occupied territory.

   In the final days of the Obama administration, the U.S. allowed the U.N. 
Security Council to pass a resolution declaring the settlements a "flagrant 
violation" of international law.

   Pompeo said that the U.S. would not take a position on the legality of 
specific settlements, that the new policy would not extend beyond the West Bank 
and that it would not create a precedent for other territorial disputes.

   He also said the decision did not mean the administration was prejudging the 
status of the West Bank in any eventual Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

   For Netanyahu, the welcome boost comes at a time when he has been weakened 
domestically by mounting legal woes and two inconclusive elections this year.

   Unable to secure a parliamentary majority, Netanyahu is now anxiously 
waiting to see if his chief rival, Benny Gantz, can put together a coalition. 
If Gantz fails, the country could be forced into a third election, with 
Netanyahu facing the distraction of a trial.

   Netanyahu's office released a statement saying the policy shift "rights a 
historical wrong" concerning settlements.

   "This policy reflects an historical truth - that the Jewish people are not 
foreign colonialists in Judea and Samaria," it said, using the Israeli terms 
for the West Bank.

   Gantz, meanwhile, applauded Pompeo's "important statement, once again 
demonstrating its firm stance with Israel and its commitment to the security 
and future of the entire Middle East."

   Pompeo dismissed suggestions that the decision would further isolate the 
U.S. or Israel in the international community, though Jordan's Foreign Minister 
Ayman Safadi wrote on Twitter that the settlements hurt peace prospects. "We 
warn of the seriousness of the change in the U.S. position towards the 
settlements and its repercussions on all efforts to achieve peace," he said.

   Shortly after Pompeo's announcement, the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem issued an 
advisory warning for Americans planning to travel in the West Bank, Jerusalem 
and Gaza, saying, "Individuals and groups opposed to (Pompeo's) announcement 
may target U.S. government facilities, U.S. private interests, and U.S. 
citizens." It called on them "to maintain a high level of vigilance and take 
appropriate steps to increase their security awareness in light of the current 
environment."

   Israel captured the West Bank and east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war and 
quickly began settling the newly conquered territory.

   Today, some 700,000 Israeli settlers live in the two areas, which are both 
claimed by the Palestinians for their state.

   After the war, it immediately annexed east Jerusalem, home to the holy 
city's most important religious sites, in a move that is not internationally 
recognized.

   But Israel has never annexed the West Bank, even as it has dotted the 
territory with scores of settlements and tiny settlement outposts.

   While claiming the fate of the settlements is a subject for negotiations, it 
has steadily expanded them. Some major settlements have over 30,000 residents, 
resembling small cities and serving as suburbs of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

   The Palestinians and most of the world say the settlements undermine hopes 
for a two-state solution by gobbling up land sought by the Palestinians.

   Israel's settlement activities have also drawn attention to its treatment of 
Palestinians.

   While Jewish settlers can freely enter Israel and vote in Israeli elections, 
West Bank Palestinians are subject to Israeli military law, require permits to 
enter Israel and do not have the right to vote in Israeli elections.


(KR)

 
 
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