US backs Israel on settlements, angering Palestinians and clouding peace process

Israeli settlements are seen as the biggest barrier to an independent Palestinian state. (AFP/File photo)
Updated 19 November 2019

US backs Israel on settlements, angering Palestinians and clouding peace process

  • The announcement by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sparked anger among Palestinians
  • The move is the latest by the Trump administration seen as favoring the Israeli position over the Palestinians

WASHINGTON: The United States on Monday effectively backed Israel’s right to build Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank by abandoning its four-decade-old position that they were “inconsistent with international law,” a stance that may make Israeli-Palestinian peace even more elusive.
The announcement by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was a victory for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is struggling to remain in power after two inconclusive Israeli elections this year, and a defeat for the Palestinians.
It appeared to deliver a new blow to Trump’s efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through a peace plan that has been in the works for more than two years but has drawn widespread skepticism even before its release.
Pompeo said US statements about the settlements on the West Bank, which Israel captured in 1967, had been inconsistent, saying Democratic President Jimmy Carter found they were not consistent with international law and Republican President Ronald Reagan said he did not view them as inherently illegal.
“The establishment of Israeli civilian settlements is not, per se, inconsistent with international law,” Pompeo told reporters at the State Department, reversing a formal legal position taken by the United States under Carter in 1978.
His announcement drew praise from Netanyahu, who said it “rights a historical wrong,” and condemnation from Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, who said Washington was threatening “to replace international law with the ‘law of the jungle.’“
Palestinians argued the US stance flouted international law. The international community views the transfer of any country’s civilians to occupied land as illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 and UN Security Council resolutions.
“The United States is neither qualified nor is authorized to negate international legitimacy resolutions and it has no right to give any legitimacy to Israeli settlement,” said Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
The United States said its stance could prompt violence, warning Americans in the region to exercise greater vigilance because those opposing the move “may target” US government facilities, private interests and citizens.
Jordan’s foreign minister, Ayman Safadi, said the policy change would have “dangerous consequences” for the prospects of reviving peace talks and called settlements “a blatant violation of international law.”
Pompeo said the move was not meant to prejudge the status of the West Bank, which the Palestinians hope will become part of an eventual Palestinian state as part of a wider resolution of the conflict.
“This is for the Israelis and the Palestinians to negotiate,” he said, saying the US decision was not meant “to compel a particular outcome nor create any legal obstacle to a negotiated resolution.”
While Pompeo said the administration was adopting Reagan’s view that settlements were not intrinsically illegal, he dodged a question on whether he shared Reagan’s view that they were ill-advised and an obstacle to peace.
Like many of the Trump administration’s pro-Israeli moves, the settlements announcement is likely to appeal to evangelical Christians, an important part of Trump’s political base that he is counting on to help him win re-election in 2020.
The timing suggested the White House may believe it could help Netanyahu withstand a challenge from his leading domestic rival Benny Gantz two days before Gantz faces a deadline to form a government after an inconclusive election.
Analysts criticized the move, saying it would make it even harder to resolve the more than 70-year-old conflict.
“He can declare that night is day, but it will not change the fact that Israeli settlements are not only illegal under international law, but are also a huge obstacle to peace and to the stability of our region,” said Hagit Ofran of the Israeli anti-settlements group Peace Now.
The announcement marked the third major instance in which the Trump administration has sided with Israel and against Palestinians and Arab positions.
In 2017 Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and, in 2018, the United States formally opened an embassy there. US policy had previously been that Jerusalem’s status was to be decided by the parties to the conflict.
And in March, Trump recognized Israel’s 1981 annexation of the Golan Heights from Syria in a boost for Netanyahu that prompted a sharp response from Damascus.
As of late Monday, no other nations appeared to have followed the United States by declaring they had ceased to view the settlements as inconsistent with international law.
Trump’s move may aim to help Netanyahu as he tries to stay in power. After two inconclusive elections this year, Netanyahu and rival Gantz have both struggled to forge a ruling coalition.
Martin Indyk, a former US peace negotiator, described the decision on Twitter as “a totally gratuitous move.” “Why slap the Palestinians in the face again? Why boost the settlement/annexation movement at the very moment that Gantz is trying to form a government?” he asked.

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Yemeni president in US for annual medical checkup

Updated 13 August 2020

Yemeni president in US for annual medical checkup

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi touched down in the US for his annual medical checkup on Thursday, the Yemeni Embassy in the US said.
Ambassador Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak received Hadi at the airport in Cleveland, Ohio, where the appointment is due to take place, and “reaffirmed his utmost best wishes to the president for continued good health,” the embassy said in a brief statement.
Hadi left for the US after appointing a new governor and a new security chief in Aden, and mandating new Prime Minister Maeen Abdul Malik Saeed to form a new government. Hadi has travelled regularly to Cleveland for medical treatment since becoming president in early 2012, reportedly suffering from heart problems.
Saeed asked the governor, Ahmed Hamid Lamlis, to focus his efforts on reviving public institutions in Aden, restoring peace and security and fixing basic services that have been hit hard by years of instability. The official Saba news agency reported that the prime minister pledged Lamlis his government’s full support.
Saeed also entered discussions with various political factions in Yemen with a view to forming his government. Abdul Malik Al-Mekhlafi, an adviser to President Hadi, said on Twitter that the administration would be announced within a month, as the internationally recognized government and the Southern Transitional Council (STC) enacted security and military components of the Riyadh Agreement.
The STC recently rescinded a controversial declaration of self-rule under a new Saudi-brokered proposal to accelerate the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement.
Signed by both sides in late 2019, the agreement was designed to end hostilities in Aden and other southern provinces. Under the deal, the government and the STC were agreed to withdraw their forces from contested areas in southern Yemen, move heavy weapons and military units from Aden and allow the new government to resume duties.
Meanwhile, a judiciary committee assigned by the country’s attorney general to investigate reports of thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate stored at Aden’s port found hat the material was in fact a different fertilizer, urea, which could also prove hazardous if mixed with other materials.
In a letter addressed to the Yemen Gulf of Aden Ports Corporation, Judge Anes Nasser Ali, a local prosecutor, ordered the port’s authorities to remove the urea from the city.
Shortly after the tragic explosion in the Lebanese capital Beirut last Tuesday, Fatehi Ben Lazerq, editor of the Aden Al-Ghad newspaper, ignited public uproar after suggesting 4,900 tons of ammonium nitrate stored in 130 containers had been gathering dust at the port for the last three years, which could cause an equally destructive explosion. The story prompted the country’s chief prosecutor, politicians and the public to call for an investigation.