Russia, Arab Nations Warn Trump's Settlements Policy Could 'Escalate' Tensions, Lead to 'Dangerous Consequences'

Pompeo announced that the administration will reverse its approach to the settlements issue, drawing widespread criticism

A view shows a building of Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Christ The Savior cathedral in Moscow, Russia September 7, 2019.
TATYANA MAKEYEVA/ REUTERS

Russia's Foreign Ministry released a statement on Tuesday in which it warned that the Trump administration's decision on Monday to relax its policy on Israeli settlements in the West Bank will only "escalate" tensions between Israel and the Palestinians. 

On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that Washington is softening its position on settlements, the latest in a series of moves by the Trump administration that weaken Palestinian claims to statehood. 

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Pompeo said that the administration will reverse the previous American government's "approach" on the settlements issue and return to to a version of the Reagan policy of the 1980s, which is likely to anger Palestinians and put the U.S. at odds with other nations working to end the conflict.

Arab League chief Ahmed Abul Gheit said that "International law is made by the international community and not just one country, no matter how important it is,"  stressing that settlements are illegal and "a shame for those who practice or support it."

He described the U.S. statement as "unfortunate change" that can lead Israeli settlers to "practice more violence and brutality against Palestinian population and undermines any tiny prospect to achieve comprehensive peace."

Egypt said its position adheres to the international resolutions and laws, which considers the settlements "illegal and violate international law," Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ahmed Hafez said.

On Monday, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi described the settlements as "an unacceptable unilateral measure" that violates international law and undermines chances for a two-state solution. Al-Safadi also warned of "dangerous consequences" that the U.S. change of position will have on the peace process.

In a statement released by Syrian state news agency SANA, a source at the Foreign Ministry said Damascus "condemns in the strongest terms the American position towards the Zionist settlements in the Palestinian territories, which are a flagrant violation of international law." Syria finds the U.S. position as "invalid and has no legal effect," the statement added.

The American move was based on a legal review to reassess the 1978 State Department legal opinion that held that civilian settlements in the occupied territories are “inconsistent with international law,” Pompeo said.

Speaking to the press at the State Department in Washington, the secretary of state emphasized that, while the administration is revoking the notion that settlements are illegal under international law, it is not taking a position on Israel's sovereignty over the West Bank.

The announcement drew condemnations from leading Democratic presidential candidates, the European Union and the Palestinian leadership.

The EU stated in an official response Monday that "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 erods the viability of the two-state solution and the prospects for a lasting peace." 

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

In the U.S., presidential hopefuls such as Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg all slammed the move, warning that it was dangerous and undermined future prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace in the region.

DPA contributed to this report