The European Union on Monday denounced the Trump administration’s shift on settlement policy, making clear that the EU maintains its position that all settlements are illegal and undermine the peace process.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a press conference declared that the US was softening its position on Israeli settlements in the West Bank, calling the communities not “inconsistent with international law.”
The announcement was the latest in a series of Trump administration moves that weaken Palestinian claims to statehood.
Within an hour of Pompeo’s announcement, the EU’s Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini issued a statement saying that the organization’s position regarding Israeli settlements “in the occupied Palestinian territory is clear and remains unchanged: all settlement activity is illegal under international law and it erodes the viability of the two-state solution and the prospects for a lasting peace.”
The EU said it will “continue to support a resumption of a meaningful process towards a negotiated two-state solution, the only realistic and viable way to fulfill the legitimate aspirations of both parties.”
The United Nations Security Council scheduled a Wednesday meeting to discuss the development, Israel’s delegation to the international body said.
Danny Danon, Israel’s envoy to the UN, welcomed the US measure in a statement, saying: “Our right to the Land of Israel is grounded not only in a historical claim, but also in the ideas of justice under international law.”
Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs denounced the decision, and in a statement affirmed its view that settlements are “illegal and contrary to international law.”
The Jordanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said following the announcement that settlements were “a blatant violation of international law” that “kill a two-state solution. Jordan’s position in condemning them is unwavering.”
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s spokesman, Nabil Abu Rdeneh, condemned Pompeo’s announcement and said settlements were illegal under international law.
“The US administration has lost its credibility to play any future role in the peace process,” he said.
Pompeo’s announcement repudiated a 1978 US State Department legal opinion that held that civilian settlements in the occupied territories are “inconsistent with international law.” The move angered Palestinians and immediately put the US at odds with other nations working to end the conflict.
The Trump administration views the opinion, the basis for long-standing US opposition to expanding the settlements, as a distraction and believes any legal questions about the issue should be addressed by Israeli courts, Pompeo said.
Even though the decision is largely symbolic, it could give a boost to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is fighting for his political survival after he was unable to form a coalition government following recent elections.
In addition, it could spell further trouble for the US administration’s oft-promised peace plan, which is unlikely to gather much international support by endorsing a position contrary to the global consensus.
Israel captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war and quickly began settling the newly conquered territory.
After the war, it immediately annexed east Jerusalem, home to the holy city’s most important religious sites, in a move that is not internationally recognized.
But Israel has never annexed the West Bank, even as it has dotted the territory with scores of settlements and tiny settlement outposts.
While claiming the fate of the settlements is a subject for negotiations, it has steadily expanded them. Some major settlements have over 30,000 residents, resembling small cities and serving as suburbs of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Today, some 700,000 Israelis live in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, which are both claimed by the Palestinians for their state.
The international community overwhelmingly considers the settlements illegal. This is based in part on the Fourth Geneva Convention, which bars an occupying power from transferring parts of its own civilian population to occupied territory. Israel rejects the position that the territories are occupied, saying they were captured from Jordan in a defensive war.