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US faces Palestinian, international criticism of Israel settlement move

Decision puts Washington at odds with international community

By AFP - Nov 19,2019 - Last updated at Nov 19,2019

An Israeli soldier points a laser light at the camera as others keep watch while a bulldozer demolishes Palestinian houses near Al Arub camp, on the outskirts of the West Bank town of Hebron on Tuesday (AFP photo)

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM — The United States faced stiff international and Palestinian criticism Tuesday over its decision to no longer consider Israeli settlements illegal.

The United Nations and European Union stressed the decision would not change the reality that the settlements were illegal, while the Arab League condemned the unilateral move announced Monday by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, said he was "very moved" by the announcement.

Pompeo said that after legal consultation Washington had concluded the establishment of settlements was "not, per se, inconsistent with international law", saying he trusted the Israeli courts to decide.

The decision puts the United States at odds with virtually the whole of the rest of the international community and breaks with UN Security Council resolutions declaring settlements to be illegal as they are built in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Israeli courts, however, have declared most major settlements legal.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said the US decision did “not modify existing international law, nor its interpretation by the International Court of Justice and the UN Security Council”.

The EU reiterated it still considers all settlement activity illegal.

Netanyahu visited the Gush Etzion settlement bloc in the West Bank south of Jerusalem on Tuesday.

More than 600,000 Israelis live in settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, alongside more than three million Palestinians.

Israel occupied the territories, seen as pivotal parts of any future Palestinian state, in the 1967 war.

Settlements are seen as one of the most difficult issues in the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


‘Dangerous consequences’ 


The announcement is the latest in a series of pro-Israeli moves by US President Donald Trump’s administration, including recognising the occupied city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Analysts say it will further embolden the settlement movement and may fend off potential legal moves against Israel.

The Arab League called it an “extremely adverse development”.

The Palestinian Authority — which considers the US biased and has rejected the Trump administration as a mediator if peace talks are ever revived — called for an emergency meeting of the body.

Egypt and Jordan  sharply criticised the US policy shift, with Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi warning of “dangerous consequences”.

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said they would take a series of measures to oppose it, including calling for a United Nations Security Council debate.

“We are going to the [UN] General Assembly and we will ask... the International Criminal Court to open an official judicial investigation,” he added.


‘On our knees’ 


The US policy shift was widely seen as an attempt to change the legal context for a series of suits and complaints against Israel. 

The European Union’s top court last week ruled that EU countries must identify products made in Israeli settlements on their labels.

The ICC is expected to take key decisions on two cases against Israel in the coming weeks, including relating to Israeli settlements.

Ofer Zalzberg, senior Middle East analyst with the International Crisis Group think-tank, said the US was trying to weaken the legal pressure on its ally.

“The Trump administration is trying to unravel international consensus on this issue of the illegality of settlements,” he said.

“It adds to a deepening politicisation of international law, making it appear to be malleable to political opinions.”

Erekat said it was only the latest move by the US to try to force the Palestinians to capitulate and give up their claims to an independent state.

“They wanted us on our knees and they used every trick — internally, externally, regionally — to put pressure on us. We stand tall and we will stand tall.”

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