US says Israeli settlements are no longer illegal in major policy shift

Photo of US says Israeli settlements are no longer illegal in major policy shift
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The announcement from the US has angered Palestinians, with President Mahmoud Abbas’ spokesman saying the US has ‘lost its credibility to play any future role in the peace process’ (Picture: AP/AFP via Getty Images)

The United States will no longer consider Israeli settlements to be illegal under international law in a move that breaks with decades of policy.

On Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo repudiated a 1978 State Department legal opinion that held that civilian settlements in the occupied territories are ‘inconsistent with international law’.

The decision has angered Palestinians and put the US at odds with nations working to bring the long-running conflict to an end.

The Trump administration believes the former policy hasn’t advanced the cause of peace and says any legal questions about the issue should be addressed by Israeli courts, Mr Pompeo stated.

He said: ‘Calling the establishment of civilian settlements inconsistent with international law has not advanced the cause of peace.

‘The hard truth is that there will never be a judicial resolution to the conflict and arguments about who is right and who is wrong as a matter of international law will not bring peace.’

Mr Pompeo added the US wouldn’t take a position on the legality of specific settlements, that the new policy wouldn’t extend beyond the West Bank and that it would not create a precedent for other territorial disputes.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at a news conference at the State Department in Washington, Monday, November 18, 2019 (Picture: AP)

He also claimed the change in policy did not mean the administration was prejudging the status of the West Bank in any eventual Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

The 1978 legal opinion on settlements – known as the Hansell Memorandum – sets out US opposition to settlement construction.

It has been in place in one way or another – depending on the sitting president’s position on the matter – for more than 40 years.

The international community overwhelmingly considers the settlements illegal.

This is based in part on the Fourth Geneva Convention, which stops an occupying power from transferring parts of its own civilian population to occupied territory.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ spokesman, Nabil Abu Rdeneh, has condemned the announcement, saying: ‘The US administration has lost its credibility to play any future role in the peace process.’

He added that settlements are illegal under international law.

It is not the first move from the Trump Administration that has been seen to weaken Palestinian efforts.

Make-shift Palestinian housing before the Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim is seen in the village of al-Sawahre (Picture: AFP via Getty Images)

Others include Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, as well as the relocation of the US Embassy and the closure of the Palestinian diplomatic office in Washington.

The move could be seen as a boost to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been unable to form a coalition government following elections.

Mr Netanyahu’s office has claimed the policy shift ‘rights a historical wrong’.

A statement read: ‘This policy reflects an historical truth – that the Jewish people are not foreign colonialists in Judea and Samaria.’

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