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In Major Policy Shift, US Says Israeli West Bank Communities Not Illegal

In a major policy reversal, the US’s top diplomat has repudiated a 1978 State Department legal opinion – known as the Hansell Memorandum – that defined Jewish communities located in the West Bank as “inconsistent with international law.” According to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the Trump Administration views the longstanding US position as an impediment to peace and believes the issue should be addressed by Israeli courts and not adjudicated by the international community. “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,” Pompeo said. The dramatic shift could be a boon for Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who has vowed to annex portions of the West Bank and whose long political career is in jeopardy after he failed to form a governing coalition in the aftermath of successive elections in April and September. In a phone call, Netanyahu thanked President Donald Trump for the move, contending that it had “corrected a historic injustice.” The US declaration also provides possible hints as to the nature and substance of the White House’s much-anticipated and repeatedly delayed peace proposal, suggesting that the US administration could potentially call for enhanced Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank without necessarily calling for the creation of a full-blown state comprising areas therein. While the announcement was near-uniformly hailed in Jerusalem, Ramallah was quick to denounce it as an “aggression” against the Palestinian national cause. Notably, during the final days former president Barack Obama’s second term in office, the US permitted a United Nations Security Council resolution to pass (the American envoy was instructed to abstain from the vote) that declared Jewish communities located across the Green Line a “flagrant violation” of international law – a position that most countries maintain. Some 700,000 Israeli Jews currently live in the West Bank, which is claimed in its entirety – including the eastern part of Jerusalem – by the Palestinians as part of a potential state. Meanwhile, the US Embassy in Jerusalem has issued a travel warning for Americans planning to visit the holy city, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, warning of potential unrest due to Washington’s decision.