US Recognises West Bank Settlements

Photo Source: Associated Press

By Naveed Qazi | Editor, Globe UpFront

To flare up more tensions in the Middle East, United States has said that West Bank settlements are not inconsistent with international law. In November 2019, Mike Pompeo told reporters that the Trump administration believes any legal questions about settlements should be settled by Israeli courts, and that declaring them as an infringement of international law, hinders a negotiation for any peace deal.

President Trump has retracted many of the decisions on Israel-Palestinian conflict, since he took over office, which has resulted in more torment for the Palestinian leadership. Infact, talks between Israel and Palestine have been broken down since 2014.

The reason why United States calls West Bank settlements legal now is because the political and diplomatic actors believe that the mantle exhibited before hasn’t helped the cause of peace. But, in reality, it embraces the hardline Israeli view, at the cost of future Palestinian statehood.

The international community overwhelmingly considers the settlements illegal, based in part on the Fourth Geneva Convention, which hinders an occupying power from transferring parts of its own civilian population, to an occupied territory.

However, Israel affirms that the Fourth Geneva Convention does not apply de jure to the West Bank because the territory is not technically occupied. Israel also says that they have a legal right of Jewish settlement in West Bank, as recognised by the 1922 League of Nations Mandate for Palestine, which was preserved under the UN's charter.

There is also a 1978 legal opinion on settlements which is known as the Hansell Memorandum. According to an Oped by Matthew Lee in Associated Press: ‘the memorandum had been the basis for more than forty years of carefully worded U.S. opposition to settlement construction that had varied in its tone and strength, depending on the president’s position.’

The United States has generally adopted a position of compromise, regarding the settlements. In the past, former President Jimmy Carter, in 1978, deemed that Israeli settlements were inconsistent with international law. His successor, Ronald Regan, however, declined that the settlements were illegal. Since then, the Democratic and Republican presidents have called the settlements as ‘illegitimate’, but not illegal – being illegal would make Israel subject to an international sanction. Lately, Barack Obama broke that trend, declining to veto a UN resolution, urging an end to settlements.

The new announcement comes as a shock to the Palestinians. This is a part of land, which they want to make part of the two state solution, but now their aspirations are being bogged down.

The spending on new settlements has increased sharply, since Trump took over office. According to Associated Press report, there was a thirty nine percent rise in infrastructure development in West Bank.

According to Chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erekat, Pompeo’s announcement on the legal status of settlements ‘risks substituting international law with law of the jungle’.

The Middle East ‘vision’ document unveiled in January 2020 also gives a green light to annexation. Trump's so-called Middle East plan would let Israel annex Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, which the rest of the world considers illegal, and impose sovereignty all the way to Jordan. The Palestinians, on the other hand, would be granted a sovereign but demilitarised entity, along with promises of major financial investments. The Palestinian state's capital would be on the outskirts of Jerusalem, the holy city that would remain fully under Israeli sovereignty.

Palestinians have firmly and unequivocally rejected the Trump proposal because it awards Israel most of what it has annexed, during decades of conflict, including nearly all the occupied land on which it has built settlements. The Palestinians have already threatened to call off existing peace agreements if Netanyahu progresses with his plan.
EU foreign policy chief said annexation would be a violation of international law, and it has forced the bloc to "act accordingly". The UN's Middle East envoy said such a step would "ignite" the region.
Hence, the latest move on West Bank settlements also means that U.S. has abandoned the role of an honest mediator in the region. But, the move also indirectly poses a threat to Netanyahu’s leadership, as it faces monumental challenges, including three inconclusive electoral performances in the past (before coming to power), and charges of corruption within the party. Benny Gantz, Netanyahu’s challenger, and former military chief of staff, believes that the move to annex West bank will threaten Israel’s security and economy, and will also be detrimental to a future Jewish democratic State.

According to polling by the Jerusalem-based Israel Democracy Institute (IDI) about half of Israelis support a two-state solution to the conflict. Although, there are many families living in the West Bank, who believe the new decision is a testimony from Trump administration that Israel is the historic land of Jewish people.

Israeli diplomatic efforts, with regards to Israel-Palestine conflict, have been designed in such a way that it directly hampers the unilateral recognition of the Palestinian State. This includes pressure tactics against international bodies that accept Palestine as a member, relying on U.S. veto in the security council, to prevent U.N. from admitting Palestine as a full member state, and even advocating restricting aid to the Palestinians.

In order words, Israel wants that its extreme policies should be accepted by everyone, but it also opens the door for policies that do no benefit Israel, including the Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.

Also, the West Bank settlement recognition of United States will not bring international community closer to Israel’s policies. There already has been an opposition coming from Russia,  and the European Union.

There are around six hundred thousand Israelis living in West Bank. Israel took over control of the territory in a six-day war in 1967. The area is also home to three million Palestinians, who live under the control of Israeli security forces.

Palestinians see the West Bank as a centre for an aspired nationhood, and home to Ramallah, the Palestinian Authority’s de facto capital. Many of the Israelis who moved to, and constructed homes in the West Bank, view this land as the Promised Land, in which the patriarchs Abraham and Isaac are buried.


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