The US embassy in Jerusalem on Monday issued a travel warning for Americans planning to visit Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, warning of Palestinian unrest in light of Washington’s settlement policy shift announced earlier in the day.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the US was softening its position on Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and repudiating a 1978 State Department legal opinion that held that they were “inconsistent with international law.”
The move angered Palestinians and immediately put the US at odds with other nations working to end the conflict.
“The US embassy advises US citizens in or considering travel to or through Jerusalem, the West Bank, or Gaza to maintain a high level of vigilance and take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness in light of the current environment,” the US embassy said in the warning. “Individuals and groups opposed to the Secretary of State’s recent announcement may target US government facilities, US private interests, and US citizens.”
The embassy said potential targets included “public events, such as demonstrations, holiday events, and celebratory gatherings; hotels, clubs, and restaurants popular with US citizens; places of worship; schools; shopping malls and markets; tourism infrastructure; public transportation and airports.”
“US citizens should carefully consider risks to their personal safety and security at sites and events that are potential targets,” the advisory warning added. “In addition, US citizens in the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem should avoid non-essential movements and events that attract attention. US citizens should carefully consider risks to their personal safety and security at sites and events that are potential targets.”
“After carefully studying all sides of the legal debate,” Pompeo told reporters earlier, the United States had 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,” Pompeo said.
“The hard truth is that there will never be a judicial resolution to the conflict, and arguments about who is right and who is wrong as a matter of international law will not bring peace.”
US moves that have weakened Palestinian efforts to achieve statehood have included President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the movement of the US embassy to that city, and the closure of the Palestinian diplomatic office in Washington.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his chief challenger Benny Gantz both lauded the US decision. Netanyahu said the decision was “righting a historical wrong.”
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, condemned Pompeo’s announcement and repeated the opinion that settlements are illegal under international law. “The US administration has lost its credibility to play any future role in the peace process,” he said.
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, maintaining that they were captured from Jordan in a defensive war.
Israel captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War and later 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 recognized by most of the international community.