Israeli settlements in the West Bank will no longer be considered by the U.S. to be illegal under international law, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on Monday.
“After carefully studying all sides of the legal debate, this administration agrees with President Reagan,” Pompeo said during the announcement, referring to Reagan’s 1983 opposition to dismantling Israel’s West Bank settlements, as New York Times reported at the time.
Watch Pompeo’s announcement at approximately 3:50 in the video below:
The decision nullifies a 1978 State Department legal opinion which had established the settlements were illegal under international law.
“The establishment of Israeli settlements in the West Bank are not, per se, illegal under international law,” Pompeo said.
Pompeo clarified that the sole existence of the settlements are not illegal, and noted that the U.S. is not “addressing or prejudging” the legality of individual activities of each settlement.
The administration made the decision based on “the unique facts, history, and circumstances of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank,” according to Pompeo.
“Calling the settlements inconsistent with international law hasn’t worked,” Pompeo said. “It hasn’t advanced the cause of international peace.”
The decision does not affect other settlements in other parts of the world.
Dr. Mike Evans, member of Trump’s Evangelical Advisory team, told American Military News, “The US State Department has repudiated the Hansell Memorandum, which has set the precedent that Israeli ‘settlements’ in Judea and Samaria (West Bank) are considered to be illegal.”
“This is a major blow to the BDS movement, which calls to ‘boycott, divest and sanction’ the State of Israel,” Evans added. “This move will allow the State of Israel to push forward with sovereignty in these disputed lands.”
Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, executive director of The Palestine Liberation Organization, said the decision “has no legal validity.”
— Palestine PLO-DPDP (@PLO_DPDP) November 18, 2019
“Israeli settlements are a grave violation of international law, including international humanitarian law. They also constitute a war crime according to the Rome Statute,” Ashrawi said.
Trump has previously referred to Israel as a friend of the U.S. and his administration has made several previous moves in support of Israeli sovereignty.
Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and ordered the move of the U.S. Embassy last year. He also recognized Golan Heights, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had said at the time would be renamed “Trump Heights” in an act of thanks.