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New U.S. Stance on Israeli Settlements Is Akin to ‘Thou Shalt Murder’

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo laughs during a press conference at a Foreign ministers meeting at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, November 20, 2019.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo laughs during a press conference at a Foreign ministers meeting at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, November 20, 2019.Credit: AFP
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

Donald Trump is turning out to be one of Israel’s most dangerous foes; he’s doing everything possible to corrupt it, deepen its rot and make it increasingly more repugnant in the eyes of the enlightened world. To worsen the corrosion, his secretary of state went so far this week as to turn the Ten Commandments on their head.

From now on, say “Thou shalt steal,” and soon, “Thou shalt murder.” Absent any moral standing or legal authority – the last areas where the Trump administration can pass judgment – Mike Pompeo announced that the West Bank settlements don’t violate international law.

One could hardly think of a more bitter joke. A declaration by the United States that rape no longer violates the law is already in the works. Will rape then become legal or moral? Of course not. The same applies to the settlements.

Not one international jurist of stature would accept the U.S. declaration. So far, not one statesman around the world, except on the far right in Israel and the United States, would agree with it. The ideological intimacy between the Trump administration and Israel is but one more thing to be ashamed of. Trump and Pompeo, as well as most Israelis, don’t have the slightest idea about the settlements, the way they were established, their wild expansion and their aims, other than the propaganda spewed by Jewish, Israeli and evangelical Christian lobbies.

I visited the settlement of Psagot this week – it has surrounded itself with an electric fence so that within its confines settlers can forcibly take over hundreds of acres of private Palestinian land that have been enclosed within the fence, with the state not lifting a finger. It’s doubtful whether the way this settlement looks would change in any way the position of the ignorant U.S. administration.

But not one person of conscience throughout the world would remain indifferent upon seeing the brutal theft and expropriation taking place in Psagot, as in every other settlement. The claim that this isn’t a violation of international law not only reflects total moral bankruptcy and embarrassing ignorance, it has many implications internationally.

Pompeo has actually called for the restoration of colonialism and the recognition of apartheid. For him, there is nothing wrong with these systems. The United States has encouraged Israeli colonialism and will encourage it elsewhere. It has been a long time since the world has heard the term legitimate colonialism. The United States has now recreated it.

In this region, Pompeo’s statement has a razor-sharp meaning: It implies the death of the last chance for a two-state solution. If the settlements are legal, why should they be evacuated? If they don’t violate the law, what’s bad about them? Leaving the decision on their legitimacy and future in Israel’s hands is akin to leaving a similar decision in an abusive husband’s hands: He’ll decide if his wife-beating is legal. Let’s go for it: beatings, theft, expropriation, murder – the United States has given us permission.

But the truth is, the decision on the future of the settlements was made a long time ago, without Pompeo’s prattle. Anyone not understanding this should drive along the West Bank’s highways and see for himself. No Israeli politician has ever intended to evacuate the settlements, nor will one ever be capable of doing so.

The despair-inducing and shameful response by Benny Gantz, who joined the right wing’s celebrations after Pompeo’s declaration, showed the extent of the battle over the settlements, which is tantamount to the battle over the two-state solution. It was decided on long ago by nearly all Israelis. Pompeo merely signed the coffin.

American legalization of this crime guarantees the perpetuation of the settlements and their further expansion. No statement is more certain than “Psagot forever” or “Itamar from past to future.” The conclusion is unavoidable: Israel has crossed the point of no return, arriving at the most significant point in its history.

Will it be democracy or apartheid, democratic or Jewish? Israel has no other options. The choice made by Trump, Pompeo and Israel is clear and frightening: The settlements are legal. There is no occupation, there is no Palestinian people, there are no human rights or international law. We can move on to the next stage – annexation and transfer. America will allow these too.

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