WASHINGTON — While Republican lawmakers and right-wing Jewish groups praised Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's announcement that settlements don't violate international law, prominent Democratic lawmakers as well as left-wing Jewish organizations harshly criticized it, stressing Washington's deep division on the matter.
Meanwhile, AIPAC, the most powerful pro-Israel lobby group in Washington, demonstrated a neutral stance and didn't fully endorse the Trump administration’s decision to revoke the notion that settlements are illegal under international law. However, the lobby group refrained from bashing it.
Taking to Twitter, the pro-Israel lobby stated that "AIPAC doesn't take a position on settlements. We believe settlements should be an issue for direct negotiations between the parties, not something determined by international bodies.”
AIPAC later shared Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz's and former Labor lawmaker Einat Wilf's tweets lauding the decision. Gantz, who is a staunch critic of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is currently scrambling to form a governing coalition before his mandate to do so expires on Wednesday.
AIPAC's cautious stance makes sense when examining the clear differences in partisan reactions to the administration's decision.
Democratic presidential hopefuls slam the move
Advocating for the two-state solution, Former Vice President and Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden, who is currently leading in most polls, said :"The best way to ensure Israel's future security as a Jewish and democratic state is for Israelis and Palestinians to work together toward a two-state solution. That's also the only way to achieve the legitimate rights and freedoms the Palestinian people deserve."
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Biden added that "expanding settlement activity makes that harder. It's an obstacle to peace. That's something that every previous administration, both Republican and Democratic, have agreed on - until Trump.
"This decision harms the cause of diplomacy, takes us further away from the hope of a two-state solution, and will only further inflame tensions in the region. It's not about peace or security. It is not about being pro-Israel. It is about undercutting Israel's future in service of Trump’s personal politics," Biden said.
Strongly denouncing the U.S. policy shift, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, one of the leading candidates in the Democratic Party's presidential primary said: “Another blatantly ideological attempt by the Trump administration to distract from its failures in the region. Not only do these settlements violate international law—they make peace harder to achieve. As president, I will reverse this policy and pursue a two state solution.”
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, another prominent Democratic candidate, said that “Israeli settlements in occupied territory are illegal. This is clear from international law and multiple United Nations resolutions. Once again, Mr. Trump is isolating the United States and undermining diplomacy by pandering to his extremist base.”
Warren and Sanders are considered the most critical of Israel among Democratic presidential contenders.
Also rebuking the move, Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend and a leading Democratic presidential hopeful, said that "the Trump administration’s statement on West Bank settlements is not only a significant step backward in our efforts to achieve a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is the latest in a pattern of destructive decisions that harm our national interests."
Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), the senior Democrat on the Senate's Intelligence Committee, warned that "the Trump administration's decision to reverse longstanding U.S. policy and unilaterally legitimize Israeli settlements in the West Bank serves no strategic purpose except to further undermine the chances for a lasting and peaceful two-state solution."
Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) called the decision “outrageous” and urged fellow members of Congress to pass a resolution in favor of the two-state solution for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Lowenthal also warned of possible future steps taken by the Israeli government to annex parts of the West Bank in light of the American new settlement policy.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) also slammed the move, stating that “Trump's decision to stop treating Israel’s West Bank settlements as a violation of international law is as dangerous as it is wrong.”
On the other side of the aisle, Republican Senators Ted Cruz (TX), Lindsey Graham (SC) and Rick Scott (FL) all voiced support of the administration’s decision.
Scott wrote that settlements “have always been part of the Jewish homeland and now of the democratic State of Israel,” while Cruz said that “for too long, the U.S. has been slow to acknowledge the basic reality that our Israeli allies have sovereignty over their territories.”
Within the American Jewish community, the decision was applauded by the Orthodox Union and the Republican Jewish Coalition, and condemned by the Union for Reform Judaism, which called on Trump to reverse it and work toward a two-state solution.
The left-wing lobby group J Street and Americans for Peace Now also expressed strong opposition to the settlements policy shift, the latest in a series of Trump administration moves that weaken Palestinian claims to statehood.