December 7, 2019

Pompeo Says Israeli Settlements Aren’t Illegal

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 18: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a press conference at the U.S. Department of State on November 18, 2019 in Washington, DC. Pompeo announced that the Trump administration does not consider Israeli settlements in the West Bank a violation of international law. Pompeo also spoke about protests in Iran, Iraq and Hong Kong. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on Nov. 18 that Israeli settlements in the West Bank aren’t illegal, marking a shift in State Department policy.

Pompeo told reporters during a press briefing, “The establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not, per se, inconsistent with international law.” He later added, “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 Times of Israel noted that Pompeo’s statement is a repudiation of a 1978 State Department legal opinion calling such settlements illegal. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office called Pompeo’s comments mark “an important policy that rights a historical wrong when the Trump administration clearly rejected the false claim that Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria are inherently illegal under international law.”

Nabil Abu, a spokesperson for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, said in a statement that the U.S. “has lost all credibility” on the Israel-Palestinian conflict with the policy change and urged countries to condemn it.

George Mason University Constitutional and International Law Professor Eugene Kontorovich argued in a Twitter thread that Pompeo’s statement is accurate on the parameters set forth under the 1978 legal opinion.

“It said the state of occupation, and with it [questions] about settlements, would end when peace treaties signed [with] Jordan,” Kontorovich wrote. “That happened in ’94; State Dept just failed to update policy to reflect changes on the ground.”

He added in a subsequent tweet: “Even if there was an occupation, the notion that people voluntarily moving— or in some cases returning— to such a territory is a war crime is an idea invented solely for the case of Israel, and has never been applied elsewhere.”

Simon Wiesenthal Center Dean and Founder Rabbi Marvin Hier and Associate Dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper praised Pompeo’s remarks as “historic” in a statement.

“Israelis have been demonized and Jewish history denied,” Hier and Cooper said. “However, it must still be up to Israel and Palestinians to negotiate peace.”

Zionist Organization of America President Morton Klein similarly praised the move in a phone interview with the Journal.

“The settlements there are only 2 percent of Judea and Samaria,” Klein said. “[The Palestinians have] been offered a state three times in the last 20 years – rejected every time – proving the issue’s not statehood. The issue’s not settlements. The issue is Israel’s existence.”

Lawfare Project Executive Director Brooke Goldstein said in a statement, “Last week, the European Court of Justice shamefully mandated a discriminatory labeling regime exclusively for Jewish goods from disputed Israeli territories. By weaponizing consumer protection laws in pursuit of an anti-Israel political agenda, the EU made its position clear. It required American leadership to stand up for what’s right. Today, the United States recognized Jews’ right to live in our historic homeland. The contrast could not be more clear and the timing cannot be coincidental. We’re thrilled to see the United States recognize reality and clearly articulate its commitment to justice and equality under the law.”

Jewish Democratic Council of America President Halie Soifer tweeted that the policy change “is a green light for Israeli annexation of the West Bank, which will permanently impede prospects for a two-state solution. @realDonaldTrump doesn’t understand what it means to be pro-Israel & Jewish voters reject his recklessness.”

The Israeli B’Tselem NGO similarly tweeted that the Pompeo announcement sets a precedent “other human rights violations around the world by obliterating the principles of international law… in so doing, the American administration is pushing the world over 70 years backwards, to the period at the end of the 2nd world war, when only in its aftermath did the world come to terms with the consequences of the absence of such protections.”