Secretary of State Mike Pompeo today announced the Trump administration’s latest assault on prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace. In renouncing a 1978 letter by the State Department’s legal advisor and stating that “settlements are not per se illegal under international law,” the Trump administration is giving a green light to further settlement expansion and even to formal Israeli annexation of the West Bank.
Already, the effective endorsement of settlements by Trump’s “peace” team (including by former Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt who has referred to settlements as “neighborhoods and cities”) has led to a surge in settlement activity, as documented by APN’s Israeli sister-organization Peace Now.
Americans for Peace Now opposes Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as the chief physical obstacle to Israeli-Palestinian peace. Most settlements will have to be removed as part of a final peace agreement. The more settlements expand and proliferate, the more difficult it will become to negotiate the establishment of a Palestinian state and to evacuate settlements whose existence is incompatible with a two-state solution.
Pompeo made the farcical claim that his announcement would increase the likelihood of a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He is ignoring the fact that the one-sided moves of the Trump administration to date have alienated the Palestinians from the US completely and moved Israelis and Palestinians further from a negotiated peace than they have been at any time since the 1991 Madrid conference initiated by President George H. W. Bush.
This latest announcement by the Trump administration will do further damage to prospects for peace, particularly if it is taken by right-wing Israeli politicians as yet another indication that President Trump will accept Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank. This damages US national interests which, as successive US administrations of both parties have held, will be served by a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Meanwhile, in bucking the international legal consensus on the status of settlements in territory occupied by Israel, the Trump administration is deepening America’s isolation. It is also chipping away at the international legal order the US helped established, which has served US interests since the end of World War II.
We join Israel’s Peace Now, which wrote in response to Pompeo’s announcement, “No statement will change the fact that the settlements were constructed on occupied territory, in violation of international law, and are an obstacle to peace.” Indeed, we welcome Secretary Pompeo to join a Peace Now settlement tour to witness firsthand the pernicious role settlements play in undermining prospects for peace.