Israelis Laud 'Historic' U.S. Policy Shift on Settlements; Palestinians Call for International Rebuke

The EU stresses following the announcement, made by Secretary Pompeo, that 'all settlement activity erodes the prospects for a lasting peace'

Workers at the Psagot Winery in the West Bank, 2014.

Israeli settlement officials called Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's announcement that settlements don't violate international law a “historic” decision and thanked the U.S. administration for its shift in policy.

Pompeo's Monday evening announcement signals the administration's softening of its position on Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the latest in a series of Trump administration moves that weaken Palestinian claims to statehood.

Minutes after Pompeo spoke, the European Union issued a response: "The European Union's position on Israeli settlement policy in the occupied Palestinian territory is clear and remains unchanged: All settlement activity is illegal under international law and it erodes the viability of the two-state solution and the prospects for a lasting peace.

"The EU will continue to support a resumption of a meaningful process towards a negotiated two-state solution, the only realistic and viable way to fulfill the legitimate aspirations of both parties."

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at a news conference where he unveiled the new American policy toward Israeli settlements, Washington, November 18, 2019.
Andrew Harnik,AP

U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said in tweet the move "will advance the cause of peace by creating an appropriate level playing field for future talks."

The Prime Minister's Office said the decision righted a historical wrong. "This policy reflects an historical truth – that the Jewish people are not foreign colonialists in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank]. In fact, we are called Jews because we are the people of Judea," it stated.

The statement added, "The Trump Administration policy is also correct in stating that those who have categorically denied any legal basis for the settlements not only deny truth, history and the reality on the ground, they also set back the cause of peace, which can only be achieved through direct negotiations between the parties."

Benny Gantz of Kahol Lavan called the announcement “an important decision, which points once more to the [U.S. administration’s] firm stance by Israel and commitment to the security and future of the entire Middle East. The fate of residents of Judea and Samaria should be decided in agreements … that will serve both sides and reflect the reality on the ground."

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said Pompeo's statement "totally contradicts" international law and called on other countries to "declare their opposition" to it. Abu Rudeineh added that the Trump administration "has lost all credibility."

Top Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said in response, "International law and system clearly define the illegality of all Israeli settlements, including by the International Court of Justice, the UN Security Council, and the International Committee of the Red Cross. Under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, Israel's long-standing settlement policy in occupied Palestine falls within the definition of war crimes."

Palestinian children play outside their dwelling in al-Eizariya, a town in the West Bank, with the Jewish settlement of Maale Adumim in the background, July 20, 2019.
RANEEN SAWAFTA/ REUTERS

He added that "Once again, with this announcement, the Trump administration is demonstrating the extent to which it's threatening the international system with its unceasing attempts to replace international law with the 'law of the jungle,'" and called for the international community to "deter this irresponsible U.S. behavior."

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin called the decision "Another historic step by the friendliest administration Israel has ever had." He added, "Recognizing the legality of settlement in Judea and Samaria is another important milestone on the way to Israeli sovereignty in all parts of the Land of Israel… It’s time the Israeli left also recognizes that fact that the land of Israel belongs to the Israeli people."

Science, Technology and Space Minister Ofir Akunis said, "No international law could have violated our basic right to this land, [but] it’s good that it is now being done with American recognition."

Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz thanked the Trump administration for "its steadfast support of Israel and its commitment to furthering relations between the peoples of the region and creating a prosperous and stable Middle East. This important announcement is an appropriate response to the European Court of Justice's decision against Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria and attempts to boycott the State of Israel."

"We believe the European Court of Justice ruling to label settlement products had a significant impact on the U.S. administration’s decision to … change its policy," said Yaakov Berg, the CEO of Psagot Winery in the West Bank. "The support we got in many circles in the U.S., including Democrats, Republicans, the State Department and more has generated a critical mass. We will keep fighting all around the world against boycott attempts and for the State of Israel and Israeli industry."

"The Trump administration's stance is not only a green light for the illegal settlement enterprise, but for wide-ranging violations of human rights across the globe," stated the human rights organization B'Tselem. "By doing so, the Trump administration is sending the world over 70 years back, to the final days of World War II. Only then had the world realized what might happen where there are no defenses."

Hanan Ashrawi, a member of Palestine Liberation Organization executive committee, tweeted about the decision: "Another blow to international law, justice & peace by a Biblical absolutist waiting for the 'rapture.'"

The activist group Peace Now said, “No statement will change the fact that the settlements were built on occupied land, in violation of the international law, and are an obstacle to peace.”

J Street, an advocacy group which promotes a two-state solution, said, "What we have here is a lawless administration thumbing its nose at international law. An 'alternative facts' administration creating alternative facts.

"For those of us grounded in reality, it is absolutely clear that the settlements are illegal under international law."