A US policy change has no impact on the legality of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem, the UN said Tuesday, insisting that the settlements breach international law.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday that after legal consultations, Washington concluded that the establishment of settlements was “not, per se, inconsistent with international law.”
However, UN rights office spokesman Rupert Colville said that “a change in the policy position of one state does not modify existing international law, nor its interpretation by the International Court of Justice and the Security Council.”
The rights office will “continue to follow the longstanding position of the United Nations that the Israeli settlements are in breach of international law,” Colville told reporters.
In his announcement, Pompeo said the United States did not necessarily consider the settlements legal, but instead would defer to the judgement of Israeli courts.
The majority of settlers live in settlements that Israeli courts have judged legal.
The decision puts the US at odds with virtually the whole of the rest of the international community and breaks with UN Security Council resolutions declaring the settlements to be illegal.
The Arab League called it an “extremely adverse development,” and the European Union said the move undermined the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians.
The United Nations Security Council scheduled a Wednesday meeting to discuss the development, Israel’s delegation to the international body said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders welcomed Pompeo’s announcement, which stepped back from four decades of US foreign policy and reversed the policies of US president Barack Obama.
Although it is largely symbolic, it fueled calls from settler supporters for increased construction or even the annexation of parts of the West Bank.
Netanyahu traveled to the West Bank on Tuesday to celebrate Trump administration’s declaration, calling it a “huge achievement” that “fixed a historic wrong.”
“I think it is a great day for the State of Israel and an achievement that will remain for decades,” he said at a gathering of ecstatic supporters and settler leaders in Alon Shvut, a settlement outside of Jerusalem.
The Palestinian Authority — which considers the US biased and has rejected the Trump administration as a mediator if peace talks are ever revived — denounced the latest decision.
Chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said the Palestinians would take a series of measures to oppose the move.
“We began deliberations in the UN to present a draft resolution in the Security Council,” he said Tuesday. “We expect a [US] veto but we will do it. Let the United States veto international law.
“We are going to the [UN] General Assembly and we will ask… the International Criminal Court to open an official judicial investigation with Israeli officials concerning settlements.”
Israel captured the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley, in the 1967 Six Day War after 19 years of Jordanian rule, and later began settling the newly conquered territory.