Israeli settlements are still illegal despite Trump backing them, says UN

‘A change in the policy position of one state does not modify existing international law’

Samuel Osborne
Tuesday 19 November 2019 18:53 GMT
Mike Pompeo: Trump administration no longer considers Israeli West Bank settlements 'inconsistent with international law'

Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory remain illegal despite the US saying it no longer considers them inconsistent with international law, the United Nations human rights office has said.

The Trump administration abandoned its four-decade policy on Monday by saying it was “reversing the Obama administration’s approach towards Israeli settlements”.

“We continue to follow the long-standing position of the UN that Israeli settlements are in breach of international law,” UN human rights spokesperson Rupert Colville told a news briefing.

“A change in the policy position of one state does not modify existing international law nor its interpretation by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the Security Council,” he said.

The Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 – which both the US and Israel have ratified – lays down that an occupying power shall not transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies, he added.

The ICJ, in an advisory opinion issued in 2004, said Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem, were established in breach of international law.

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) also rejected the Trump administration’s new stance, which was announced by Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state.

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, called Mr Pompeo’s declaration a “huge achievement” that “fixed a historic wrong”.

Mr Netanyahu travelled to Alon Shvut, a settlement outside of Jerusalem, on Tuesday where he spoke to a group of right-wing Israelis. “I think it is a great day for the state of Israel and an achievement that will remain for decades,” he said.

The Palestinians, who claim the West Bank as part of a future state, condemned the decision. They and other countries said the move undercuts any chances of a broader peace deal.

Over 400,000 settlers now live in the West Bank, in addition to more than 200,000 settlers in East Jerusalem, the Palestinian’s hoped-for capital.

Mr Trump has also made a succession of pro-Israeli initiatives. These include recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017, moving the US embassy to the city in 2018 and cuts in aid to Palestinians. In March, Mr Trump recognised Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, captured from Syria in 1967.

“This changes nothing. President Trump can’t wipe away decades of established international law that settlements are a war crime,” Andrea Prasow, acting Washington director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

Philippe Nassif of Amnesty International said the construction and maintenance of the settlements breached international law and amounted to war crimes.

“Today, the United States government announced to the rest of the world that it believes the US and Israel are above the law: that Israel can continue to violate international law and Palestinians’ human rights and the US will firmly support it in doing so,” he said in a statement.

Ryvka Barnard, senior militarism and security campaigner at War on Want, said: ”Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory are a clear and unequivocal violation of international law, whatever the Trump administration claims. This is an attempt by a far-right government to legitimise the war crimes committed by another far-right government.

“Settlement building entrenches Israel’s illegal military occupation of the West Bank. It’s a part of the dispossession of Palestinians, the theft of their land, and forcible transfer of the 3 million Palestinians living in the West Bank, a war crime under international law.”

She added: “Now is the time for the UK government to be on the right side of history. It must condemn this move in the strongest terms, reaffirm its opposition to Israeli settlements, and end its own complicity by suspending trade with Israel – including the deadly arms trade.”

Additional reporting by agencies

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