The declaration by the United States this week that Israeli settlements are legal and legitimate marked a significant policy change and a historic moment, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.
“This is a very great day for the State of Israel and an achievement that will stand for generations. The Trump administration has corrected a historical injustice and lined up with truth and justice.”
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the policy change, which is largely symbolic, on Monday. America previously considered Israeli building activity over the pre-1967 lines as illegitimate, as does the rest of the world.
“After carefully studying all sides of the legal debate” the United States has concluded that “the establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not, per se, inconsistent with international law. Calling the establishment of civilian settlements inconsistent with international law hasn’t worked. It hasn’t advanced the cause of peace.” —U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
Palestinians claim that settlements are illegal and prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state while Israel maintains that their status should be determined in negotiations.
But here is what the average person doesn’t know. This is not Palestinian land. It could have been, but in 1947, when the United Nations passed the Partition Plan (to partition the region into two new states—one Arab and one Jewish) the Palestinian Arabs rejected it! The Jewish Palestinians* accepted it.
After the Israeli War of Independence, Jordan took the land that is now the West Bank. But they never annexed it. It never became Jordan. So, when Israel took it from Jordan in 1967, it still was unclassified territory or disputed territory, as we refer to it in Israel. It has never occupied territory. Beyond that, it was the bread basket of ancient Israel. Ezekiel calls the area the Mountains of Israel. No one has had a longer, more consistent presence in the West Bank than the Israelites.
Since President Donald Trump took office he has made significant pro-Israel moves including recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, relocating the American embassy to Jerusalem and recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
Settlement leaders in Gush Etzion welcomed the U.S. declaration.
“I admit that I am very moved,” said regional council head Shlomo Ne’eman. “We are here, in Gush Etzion, a place from which we were expelled during the War of Independence. Here we are on a historic day with another tremendous achievement for the State of Israel, for which we have worked greatly.”
A U.S. official told Israel media that this move “should not be seen as a green light for Israel to annex parts of the West Bank or start unrestrained building in settlements.” Nevertheless, it marks a major turnaround for America since the Obama administration. Then U.S. Secretary State John Kerry called the settlements a violation of international law, and Samantha Power, his representative to the UN, abstained on voting for a resolution that said Israeli settlements were in “Palestinian territory.” Traditionally the U.S. would have voted against such a resolution.
The European Union and the United Nations consider the settlements and any building activity over the pre-1967 lines, including in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, illegal.
“The EU calls on Israel to end all settlement activity, in line with its obligations as an occupying power,” said Outgoing EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, adding that it erodes the “viability of the two-state solution and the prospects for a lasting peace.”
Israel captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem in the 1967 war after being invaded by several armies from Arab nations. Israel annexed east Jerusalem as well and settled the newly conquered territory. More than 400,000 Israelis live in Judea and Samaria today.
Meanwhile, showing just how much of an incendiary issue this is, the U.S. embassy issued a warning for Americans planning to visit Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
“Individuals and groups opposed to the Secretary of State’s recent announcement may target U.S. government facilities, U.S. private interests, and U.S. citizens,” the embassy said in the warning issued immediately after Pompeo’s announcement.
*Pre-1948, the region has been known as Palestine. It was a name given by the Romans back in 135 CE. It has nothing to do with the Arabs who now live there. Everyone living in “Palestine” in 1947 and before referred to themselves as Palestinian, but it has no ethic connotation.