18th November 2019 could very well be the date that future historians point to when they discuss the complete extinction of an independent Palestinian State for that was the day US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo nonchalantly announced the reversal of US policy on Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory and ripped up a four decade long understanding that such settlements were illegal under international law.
RULE OF LAW PRINCIPLE UNDERMINED BY SETTLEMENT POLICY SHIFT
This is a truly momentous decision with huge consequences for the Middle East and the whole world but has escaped the scrutiny and world outrage it deserves. This represents extreme American exceptionalism and undermines fundamentally the already fragile concept of international law and the consensus of rule of law which has endured in some shape or form since 1945.
The very existence of Palestine is in more danger now than at any time since the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. The continued occupation by Israel of land it conquered during the 1967 ‘Six Day War’ has always been internationally recognised as illegal. America now undermining that consensus represents a grave and dangerous escalation in its desire to reshape the world in its own interests regardless of existing international law.
US ROGUE NATION STATUS IS KNOW BY ALL BUT THE WILFULLY BLIND
We cannot allow ourselves to be blinded by naivety. Since the end of the Second World War in 1945 America has flagrantly ignored international laws on respect for sovereignty and the legitimate rights of nations to determine their own form of governments and utilise their own natural resources for their own economic development. Countless covert operations to undermine elected governments in Guatemala, Chile, Nicaragua and Cuba alongside brutal invasions in places like Vietnam, El Salvador, Grenada, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and many others are stark and bloody testimonies to the existence of American imperialism and bullying exceptionalism.
The attempts to overthrow the elected government of Venezuela and the successful support for the brutal coup now in place in Bolivia are but the latest examples of US interference, both direct and indirect. Leading contender for the Democratic nomination for the US Presidency in 2020, Bernie Sanders, has condemned the Bolivian military removal of elected President Evo Morales as a dangerous “coup” while former Senator and Democratic nominee for the President, Mike Gravel, tweeted boldly:
“Congratulations on winning power in Bolivia, @CIA!”
So US defiance of international law in pursuit of its own economic and political interests is not new. It is actually the norm of their foreign policy. However the Israeli settlement change of policy is a radical departure from accepted consensus which fatally punctures the chances of a ‘Two State’ solution to the Israel/Palestine despair.
UN REINFORCED ILLEGAL STATUS OF ISRAELI SETTLEMENTS IN 2016
Only three years ago the United Nations Security Council discussed in detail the attitude of the world’s sovereign nations to the existence of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land. After hours of discussion that followed weeks of consultations and debate the 7853rd meeting of the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2334. The Press notification which accompanied that decision could not have been clearer:
“The Security Council reaffirmed this afternoon that Israel’s establishment of settlements in Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, had no legal validity, constituting a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the vision of two States living side-by-side in peace and security, within internationally recognized borders.
Adopting resolution 2334 (2016) by 14 votes, with the United States abstaining, the Council reiterated its demand that Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem. It underlined that it would not recognize any changes to the 4 June 1967 lines, including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed by the two sides through negotiations”.
The US representative on the UN Security Council, Samantha Power, explained her country’s abstention on the motion was not related to the substance of the illegal status of Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory but was rather in protest that the UN General Assembly and the UN Human Rights Council had, in the course of 2016 alone, passed 18 separate motions all condemning Israel for various human rights abuses and she felt this was proof of unfair “bias” against Israel. How the 193 member nations of the United Nations had contrived to agree bias against Israel in relation to human rights abuses was not explained. One wonders if it could ever be rationally explained!
The US position in 2016 was telling in that they continued to not only accept the settlements were illegal but that they also undermined the prospects for peace in the region and that opinion was long held, even as far back as Ronald Reagan’s Presidency in the 1980’s:
“Samantha Power (United States) said the immediate adoption of a freeze on settlements could create confidence, adding that further settlement activities were not necessary for Israel’s security. President Ronald Reagan had said that in 1982, she recalled, noting that his words underscored her country’s commitment to a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians and highlighted its position that settlements undermined Israel’s security and eroded prospects for peace and stability”.
SECURITY COUNCIL MOTION 2334 COULD NOT HAVE BEEN CLEARER
A couple of comprehensive excerpts from that motion passed without opposition by the body established to adjudicate on international legal issues and represent the collective majority opinion of the world are very instructive and worthy of consideration:
“The Security Council,
“Condemning all measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, including, inter alia, the construction and expansion of settlements, transfer of Israeli settlers, confiscation of land, demolition of homes and displacement of Palestinian civilians, in violation of international humanitarian law and relevant resolutions,
“Expressing grave concern that continuing Israeli settlement activities are dangerously imperilling the viability of the two-State solution based on the 1967 lines…
“1. Reaffirms that the establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-State solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace;
“2. Reiterates its demand that Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, and that it fully respect all of its legal obligations in this regard;”.
The position of the world, including the United States of America, could not have been clearer in 2016 and that motion encapsulated the consistent and clear legal position and opinion of the world since 1948. What Pompeo did on behalf of Trump on November 18th was rip into worthless shreds of paper all the international agreements in relation to Israel and Palestine. Rather than “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory” as instructed by the United Nations three years ago Israel has continued its flagrant disregard of world opinion and international law. It has expanded the illegal settlements and displaced thousands of existing Palestinian homes in the process.
WORDS WITHOUT ACTIONS IN INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS ARE WORTHLESS
The tens of thousands of fine words and clear motions condemning Israel’s refusal to remove existing illegal settlements and their continued expansion of those settlements in recent years amount to empty rhetoric.
The Israeli settlements go hand-in-hand with Palestinian displacement. Existing Palestinian communities have repeatedly been uprooted to create space for settlers. There is little clarity on the figures, with estimates ranging from 24,500 to 115,000 internally displaced Palestinians.
Strikingly, Amnesty International found a correlation between accelerated settlement expansion and increasing rates of displacement.
Once settlements are established, settlers have exclusive access to roads and facilities from which their Palestinian neighbours are barred. Palestinian land has been regularly appropriated to create this two-tier infrastructure.
TWO STATE SOLUTION IN TATTERS – PEACE IN MIDDLE EAST UNDERMINED
The Trump government reversal of attitude to the illegal Israeli settlements is a massive green light to Israel to continue its expansionist policy and appropriation of Palestinian land. It makes the viability of a two state solution to the Israel/Palestine issue non-existent. Under the blanket of US protection Israel is now effectively empowered to carry on and accelerate its illegal incursion into Palestinian territory and the building of new Israeli settlements. It really is the ultimate perversion of the rule of law principle. Israel is now permitted to not only keep land it has been illegally occupying since 1967 but to militarily confiscate more land without fear of reprisal. The idea that such Israeli/US exceptionalism will not lead to be more violent resistance across the region is naïve in the extreme.
The words of Michael Lynk, a Human Rights Law expert and the United Nation’s special rapporteur on human rights in the West Bank and Gaza, should shock the world and spur the international community into meaningful action in defence of the very existence of Palestine:
“This is not a step towards peace or justice in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The American Government’s decision to jettison international law and to legitimise the illegal Israeli settlements is probably the very last nail in the coffin of the two-state solution.
This effectively grants permission to the Israeli government to formally annex large parts of the occupied West Bank, as it has already done with East Jerusalem. This will only confirm a one state reality characterised by a rigid two-tier system of legal and political rights, based on ethnicity and religion. This would meet the international definition of apartheid”.
We can’t say we haven’t been warned.
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