Washington’s U-turn on its policy pertaining to Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem “should not be seen as a green light for Israel to annex parts of the West Bank or start unrestrained building in settlements,” the Times of Israel reported, referring to unnamed Trump administration officials’ interview with the Israeli news outlet Channel 13.
On Monday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that Washington no longer considers Israeli settlements in the West Bank a violation of international law, reversing a position the US has held since 1978.
The US officials claimed that it was the White House’s drive to reverse decisions by the Obama administration that proved to be the main motive for changing Washington’s policy on Israeli settlements.
They described US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman as the driving force behind Washington’s move.
The officials added that the White House gave US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his team a “free hand” in order to draft the new policy. According to them, a special team of State Department lawyers was formed to examine the issue and hold consultations with an Israeli Foreign Ministry adviser.
Their remarks come after Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu travelled to the West Bank on Tuesday to celebrate the US declaration, calling it a “huge achievement” that “fixed a historic wrong.”
“I think it is a great day for the State of Israel and an achievement that will remain for decades,” he told a gathering of his supporters and settler leaders in Alon Shvut, a settlement outside of Jerusalem.
Palestinians, in contrast, condemned Washington’s move, with a spokesperson for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas asserting that the US decision “contradicts totally with international law,” and adding that the US was “not qualified or authorised to cancel the resolutions of international law.”
UN Rejects Israeli Settlements as Illegal
Israeli settlements, which were built on lands occupied by Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War, currently exist in the Palestinian territory of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and in the Syrian territory of the Golan Heights.
The world community considers the settlements to be illegal under international law, with the UN claiming that Israel's construction of settlements runs counter to the Fourth Geneva Convention on protection of civilians in a war zone.
Washington Backs Israel’s Territorial Claims
Since the inauguration of President Donald Trump in January 2017, the US has made several moves in support of Israeli territorial claims.
First, Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel's capital and decided to move the American Embassy there from Tel Aviv, where most diplomatic missions are located, in December 2017.
Additionally, the US recognised Israeli claims over the occupied Golan Heights, where Tel Aviv recently held municipal and local elections. Both recognitions were widely condemned by the international community and the UN, but welcomed by the Jewish state.
The relocation of the US Embassy to Jerusalem also sparked deadly protests at the Gaza border, which have been ongoing for over a year on a weekly basis. Tel Aviv has repeatedly denounced the protests, claiming that they are organised by the militant group Hamas to covertly attack Israel.