House Democrats Chide State Department for Settlement Policy Reversal

In a letter sent to Mike Pompeo, more than 100 members of Congress say this will corrode the U.S.'s position as a honest broker between Israelis, Palestinians

A Palestinian demonstrator argues with an Israeli settler during a protest against Jewish settlements in al-Shuyukh village near Hebron, West Bank, November 10, 2019
MUSSA ISSA QAWASMA/ REUTERS

More than 100 Democratic members of Congress signed a letter against the Trump administration’s decision to no longer define Israeli settlements in the West Bank as illegal under international law. The letter, made public on Friday, warned that the administration’s new policy “has undermined America’s moral standing” and made it more difficult to reach an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

The letter was initiated by Rep. Andy Levin, a Jewish American lawmaker from the state of Michigan. As of Friday morning, it was signed by 107 other Democrats in the House of Representatives. The signatories expressed “strong disagreement with the State Department’s decision to reverse decades of bipartisan U.S. policy on Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank,” and warned that Trump’s policies on the subject have “discredited the United States as an honest broker between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.” 

Letter to Mike Pompeo signed by 106 House Democrats opposing the State Department's settlement policy reversal, November 22, 2019
Screengrab / U.S. Congressman Andy Levin

The letter is the latest example of the growing opposition within the Democratic Party to the alliance between President Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, particularly on the issue of settlements. Netanyahu promised during the previous Israeli election to annex parts of the West Bank to Israel; the Trump administraiton’s change of policy regarding the settlements was interpreted by politicians and leading analysts in Israel as a “green light” for such a step, despite denials from the White House that this was the administration’s intention. 

Earlier this week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the U.S. will no longer accept the legal opinion that settlements are illegal under international law, and will instead accept the position of Israel’s legal system on the subject. The announcement came at the height of political coalition negotiations in Israel on the formation of a government, and the Trump administration denied allegations that the timing was meant to help Netanyahu remain in power

The Democratic members who signed the public letter on the subject stated that “this decision blatantly disregards Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which affirms that any occupying power shall not “deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” 

They added that “In ignoring international law, this administration has undermined America’s moral standing and sent a dangerous message to those who do not share our values: human rights and international law, which have governed the international order and protected U.S. troops and civilians since 1949, no longer apply.”