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November 22, 2019

The ‘gift’


November 22, 2019

US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, announced a reversal in decades of US policy towards Israel's illegal settlements in the West Bank, stating that: "the establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not, per se, inconsistent with international law."

Within hours of Pompeo's statement, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini released a statement asserting that the EU position on the illegality of Israeli settlements in the 1967 territories remained "clear and unchanged" affirming that "all settlement activity is illegal under international law". A spokesperson for the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, said that the decision "contradicts totally with international law" and Palestinian Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat called it "a threat to global stability, security and peace". Similarly, human rights organisations, including Human Rights Watch and BT'selem, have condemned the move.

Many pundits are describing this as yet another "gift" to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from the Trump Administration. In 2017, Trump recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and announced that he will be moving the US embassy there. A year later, he announced that the US was cutting its contributions to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the UN agency for Palestinian refugees. In March this year, just before the first Israeli elections, Trump recognised Israel's 1981 annexation of the occupied Golan Heights.

The timing of his latest "gift" is also perfect for Netanyahu, as he is facing not only the possibility of a third parliamentary poll in less than a year but also serious corruption charges. While Washington's gifts undoubtedly serve to bolster him and his party – Likud – it would be a mistake to think that this aggressive expansionism would die with him should he fail to make it into the next government.

Benny Gantz, the leader of the opposition party Kahol Lavan, also welcomed the US move.These days, the Trump administration and Netanyahu easily provide many liberals with a point of blame for the failure to secure peace in Palestine. Yet, it would be another mistake to place responsibility solely in the hands of President Trump. In a Twitter thread, Director for the US Campaigns for Palestinian Rights Youssef Munayyer, explained how the "Obama administration paved the way for this moment" by vetoing a UNSC resolution declaring settlements illegal in 2011 and consistently avoiding using legal language when talking about the issue.

The rationale was that international law does not advance peace or diplomatic efforts. The then US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, explained their veto position by stating that the "resolution would not have advanced the goal of getting the parties closer to negotiations and agreement... " In other words, they considered international law as merely something to pick and choose from according to what suits their diplomatic needs.

Excerpted from: 'It is time to stop lecturing Palestinians and to start listening'

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