Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lost no time in making political capital on Monday’s announcement by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that abandoned decades old US position that settlements in Israeli-occupied territory were “inconsistent with international law”, reversing a stand taken under President Jimmy Carter in 1978.
“I admit that I am very moved,” Netanyahu said as he visited the Etzion bloc of settlements in the West Bank.”The Trump administration has corrected a historic injustice,” Netanyahu said. “This is a very great day for the State of Israel and an achievement that will stand for generations.”
In a video posted later on social media, Netanyahu said that the policy shift could pave the way for annexing the Jordan Valley in the West Bank which, during a September election campaign, the leader had pledged to annex.
However, some Israeli analysts said the announcement had little practical effect – with settlement building already in evidence under a Netanyahu government, as it had been since the area was captured from Jordan in the 1967 war.
The U.N. human rights office said the settlements remain in breach of international law, echoing a position taken by the International Court of Justice in an advisory opinion in 2004.
Netanyahu has cited historical and biblical links to the West Bank in supporting Jewish settlement, even as Palestinians and Arab leaders said it was a threat to the international rule of law.
Palestinians say settlements jeopardise their goal of a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
Hagit Ofran, Settlements Watch Director of the left-wing Israeli group Peace Now, said there were 430,000 settlers in the West Bank and 200,000 in East Jerusalem, living in 132 settlements and 121 unofficial settlement outposts. About 3 million Palestinians live throughout the West Bank.
David Friedman, the Trump-appointed U.S. Ambassador to Israel, said on Twitter that Pompeo’s announcement would “advance the cause of peace” by creating a “level playing field” for future talks.
Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit said such an “unfortunate change” in the American position would not bring Israel security, peace or normal relations with Arab countries. Egyptian state news agency MENA quoted him as saying it would “push the legions of Israeli settlers to practise more violence and brutality against the Palestinian population.” (Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation)