US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Monday afternoon the US would no longer regard Israeli settlements in the West Bank as violating international law, stepping back from a decision by the prior Barack Obama administration. The United Nations has issued myriad resolutions denouncing the process, which involves the seizure of Palestinian lands and the expulsion of the people who live there, all under the aegis of an Israeli military occupation in place since 1967.
Since then, roughly 600,000 Israelis have moved into settlements built between Israel’s internationally recognized eastern border established in 1947 and the River Jordan, which forms the country of Jordan’s western border. However, roughly 3 million Palestinian Arabs also live there, most of them under military administration by the Israel Defense Forces and forced to pass through checkpoints as they move across the territory on segregated highways.
Ali Abunimah, co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of the book “The Battle for Justice in Palestine,” told Radio Sputnik’s Loud and Clear Tuesday that far from being exceptional, US President Donald Trump’s policies have fallen firmly in line with decades of acquiescence from Washington on the issue of the settlements.
“The first thing to emphasize is that Israeli colonization of occupied territory is a war crime,” Abuminah told hosts Brian Becker and John Kiriakou. “It is actually one of the war crimes named in the Rome Statute that established the International Criminal Court about 20 years ago. But there’s a long history of this kind of colonization being considered a war crime of the highest order. So, that needs to be said, because if you read the New York Times and other mainstream media, it’s like, ‘Well, you know, Israel says it’s not a crime, Palestinians say it is - who knows?’”
“There is no two sides about it: settling a civilian population from an occupying power in an occupied territory is a war crime. These laws and these conventions were established after World War II because World War II, and the period before that, had been characterized by ethnic cleansing and forced displacement and occupation and so on,” he said.
“The second thing is: yeah, who can be surprised that the United States, especially in the era of Trump, would blatantly disregard international law? What’s new there?”
Abuminah warned against regarding Trump’s behavior as exceptional, though. “I think the Trump administration’s decision is the next step following the policies of every administration prior to this, including the Obama administration, which for eight years did absolutely nothing to reign in Israeli settlements except the occasional, very mildly critical statement. In fact, the Obama administration rewarded Israel for the settlements by giving Israel the biggest military aid package in history, increasing US military aid to Israel to a record $3.8 billion a year.”
“And then about two weeks before the Obama administration left office, they abstained on a UN Security Council resolution that criticized the settlements. That was supposed to be Obama’s big, you know, ‘wow’ moment of, ‘I’m standing up to Israel.’ Give me a break! Obama supported the settlements for eight years,” Abuminah noted.
“We could argue that what Trump is doing is just taking away the curtain of hypocrisy and being honest about what US policy is and what it has always been, really, for decades, which is to support the Israeli war crime of settler colonization and land theft in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Syria’s Golan Heights.”
“The US goal is not to bring about negotiations. I think the goal of the Trump administration and the pro-Israel fanatics in charge of US policy is, to so to speak, establish political or legal effects on the ground. So, they’ve done that step-by-step, first with the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, then with the recognition of the Golan Heights as part of Israel, now with this statement that the settlements are not illegal,” Abuminah said. “The next step, undoubtedly, is recognition or giving Israel the green light to formally annex the West Bank. So, they’re trying to establish facts in American policy that a future administration will have real political difficulty trying to reverse.”
Indeed, late Tuesday night, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a video posted on Twitter that the first task of a prospective coalition government between him and political rivals Benny Gantz and Avigdor Liberman would be to annex the Jordan Valley.
"I called on Benny Gantz and Avigdor Lieberman to form a broad unity government that would keep Israel safe and annex the Jordan Valley,” Netanyahu said as the country rushes to form a government following snap elections.
Abuminah noted this dynamic was already in motion. “We’ve seen that already when a couple of months ago, Bernie Sanders was asked: would he remove the US embassy from Jerusalem and return it to Tel Aviv? He answered: ‘probably not.’ If that’s what Bernie Sanders is saying, does anyone expect any other Democrat to be more bold?”
“So what they’re doing is trying to change the discourse and change the political reality to match the reality on the ground of total Israeli control. So that’s the game that they're playing. The question is: what’s the response from everyone else? We’ve already seen dutiful statements from the European Union and governments around the world and from some Democratic candidates saying, you know, condemning this decision - but what are they going to do?”
“I mean, the European Union has spent decades arguing over whether to label settlement goods that are sold in European supermarkets, and just a week ago, the European Court of Justice, the highest court of the European Union, ruled that settlement products must be labeled as coming from occupied territories so that European consumers can make ethical decisions about whether or not they want to buy them,” he said.
“But that discussion, I mean, it’s so far from the discussion we need to be having: there should be an outright ban on the sale of settlement goods because they’re the fruit of war crimes,” the journalist noted. “There should be sanctions on Israel - the EU imposed sanctions on Russia over Crimea. They’re talking about European Union sanctions on Turkey because they claim that Turkey is drilling in disputed waters around Cyprus that are part of EU territory. But Israel has a complete blank check to do what it wants, and that really is the problem.”
“Yeah, it’s not surprising that the US is indulging and encouraging Israel’s crimes. The question is: what is the rest of the world going to do if they are going to do nothing? It’s up to civil society to fill in the gap by doubling down on boycott, divestment and sanctions, just as we did with Apartheid South Africa.”
The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.