In Brief

Why has US reversed policy on Israeli settlements?

US secretary of state says Washington no longer finds settlements illegal

The US has announced that it no longer considers Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank to be inconsistent with international law.

Announcing the shift in position, which reverses four decades of US policy, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the media that “after carefully studying all sides of the legal debate, the United States has concluded that the establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not, per se, inconsistent with international law”.

He added: “Calling the establishment of civilian settlements inconsistent with international law hasn't worked. It hasn't advanced the cause of peace.”

Israel welcomed the move, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying the development “rights a historical wrong”. He called on leaders of other countries to follow suit.

However, other reactions have been hostile. The chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said Washington’s decision was a risk to “global stability, security, and peace” and said it threatened to replace international law with “the law of the jungle”.

Writing on Twitter, Jordan’s foreign minister, Ayman Safadi, said that settlements were “a blatant violation” of international law which would have “dangerous consequences”.

The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini said the EU policy on Israeli settlements “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”.

Settlements are one of the most divisive elements in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. These communities, built on land occupied by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War are widely considered illegal under international law, though Israel has always disputed this.

About 600,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel's occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and these communities are considered a significant obstacle to peace.

Barbara Plett-Usher, the BBC’s Middle East correspondent, said in the wake of Pompeo’s announcement, any resolution to the conflict “is now more likely to be on Israel's terms, since it is by far the stronger party”.

The Guardian says the shift on settlements is “an extension of previous Trump policy, which has been marked by a series of radical pro-Israeli moves and the abandonment of Washington’s historic role as broker”.

It adds that Trump has already recognised Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, and Israeli sovereignty in the occupied Golan Heights. 

Israeli newspaper Haaretz adds that the Trump administration has also made other highly partial moves, such as “slashing the budgets of the Palestinian Authority and the UNRWA the United Nations' agency to aid Palestinian refugees”.

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