Vatican says US decision on settlements ‘undermines regional stability’

Holy See doesn’t directly mention Washington’s announcement that it no longer views settlements as illegal, but reference seems clear from statement’s wording

Pope Francis during the weekly general audience on May 8, 2019, at St. Peter's Square in the Vatican. (Filippo Monteforte/AFP)
Pope Francis during the weekly general audience on May 8, 2019, at St. Peter's Square in the Vatican. (Filippo Monteforte/AFP)

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican on Wednesday expressed concern that “recent decisions” could undermine regional stability in the Middle East, in an apparent reference to the US reversal of position on Israeli settlements.

The Vatican didn’t specifically cite the US conclusion that Israel’s West Bank settlements don’t violate international law. But the reference appeared clear when it spoke of “the recent decisions that risk undermining further the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the already fragile regional stability” in the Middle East.

The Holy See reiterated its support for a “two-state solution for two peoples, as the only way to reach a complete solution to this age-old conflict.”

It said it supports Israel’s right to “live in peace and security within the borders recognized by the international community” and supports “the same right that belongs to the Palestinian people, which must be recognized, respected and implemented.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Monday 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 US move angered Palestinians and was rebuked by many other countries as well as the United Nations.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo makes a statement during a press conference at the US Department of State in Washington, DC, on November 18, 2019. (JIM WATSON/AFP)

“After carefully studying all sides of the legal debate,” Pompeo told reporters, 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 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 and that the West Bank was merely controlled by Jordan, but never part of the Hashemite Kingdom or any other sovereign state.

Israel captured the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley, in the 1967 Six Day War, and later began settling the newly conquered territory.

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