On November 18, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a news conference, “the establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not per se inconsistent with international law.” Pompeo’s comment reverses a forty year US foreign policy position. This counter-productive decision has been condemned by Palestinians, the United Nations, and the European Union among others.
Christian Peacemaker Teams, whose history of working for peace and justice in Occupied Palestine dates back to 1995, rejects the revised position of the U.S. government.
This policy reversal is unsupported by any process of international consultation or ratification and has no weight in defining international law. Pompeo’s statement seems to imply that international law becomes moot and irrelevant any time one side obtains an advantage by force, and then maintains that advantage long enough to create an appearance of permanence over a territory and people under its disputed control. This policy negates the role for international law in wars or military occupations anywhere. His assertion ignores the power imbalance between Israel and Palestine, the history of the United States contributing to that imbalance, the Israeli legal system’s pervasively discriminatory treatment of Palestinians, and Israel’s demonstrated attitude of impunity regarding its violations of previously negotiated agreements.
International law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention to which both the United States and Israel are signatories, clearly outlines the legal status of occupied territories and their populations. People under occupation by any power anywhere must be able to appeal to these basic principles. Otherwise, millions of people would disappear into special extra-legal zones where their rights are determined at the point of a gun—the situation already faced by occupied Palestine.
“Our decision today does not prejudice or decide legal conclusions regarding situations in any other parts of the world,” said Pompeo, essentially asserting that Israel and Palestine constitute an exception to the normal process of determining legality. However, there is no logical reason to assume that any nation could not subsequently claim this “exceptional” status and obtain what it perceives as its best interests through violence.
Two weeks after Pompeo’s statement, Israeli Defence Minister, Naftali Bennett announced the construction of a new settlement in Hebron that would “double the number of Jewish residents in the city.” Over the last month, Christian Peacemaker Teams has observed an influx of Israeli settlers and an increase in violence toward Palestinians.
Christian Peacemaker Teams would find such a cynical conclusion intolerable and will work unceasingly to defend the principles that the U.S. government apparently now seeks to set aside.
If you are in the United States, call your representative to support the No Way to Treat a Child campaign and H.R. 2407, the Promoting Human Rights for Palestinian Children Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act – that demands an end to US support for Israeli military detention of children. Determine if they have signed the Congressional letter to Secretary of State Pompeo opposing his statement declaring that settlements are legal. Thank them if they have signed the letter and tell them to sign it if they have not.