Ashrawi: Washington ‘trying to redefine international law’ and ‘rewrite it in its own image’
Palestinian leaders are furious over Monday’s announcement by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that Washington no longer considers Israeli settlements in the West Bank illegal.
They called for an emergency meeting, to take place on Wednesday, to discuss a response.
The US declaration was a sharp deviation from a four-decade-old State Department legal opinion.
“After carefully studying all sides of the legal debate, this administration agrees [that the] establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not, per se, inconsistent with international law,” Pompeo said.
The secretary of state said the administration reached its decision following legal consultations. He added, however, that the US did not necessarily consider the settlements legal, saying that would be up to Israeli courts.
Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO’s Executive Committee, slammed the move, calling it a blow to “international law, justice and peace.”
“Our reaction is total denunciation and outrage,” she told The Media Line, saying the US was “trying to redefine international law” and “rewrite it in its own image.”
The veteran Palestinian negotiator added that this “emboldens Israel, giving it full support and [a] green light to pursue its policy of annexation and expansionism,” something that will bring an end to an already moribund peace process.
“This administration has totally shattered all components of peace,” she complained.
Danny Ayalon, a former Israeli ambassador to Washington and deputy foreign minister, emphasized to The Media Line that the US decision did not legitimize settlements.
“What the Americans are saying is that these settlements are not illegal,” he stated. “They didn’t say that this is Israeli land and that Israel has sovereignty over it. They say [merely that the settlements] are not illegal and are up for negotiation.”
According to several United Nations Security Council resolutions – the most recent being passed in 2016 – Israeli settlements are illegal under international law as they violate the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits an occupying power from transferring its population to an area it occupies.
Prof. Ephraim Inbar, of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies near Tel Aviv, told The Media Line that the US decision was part of a larger plan.
“Instead of putting the whole plan on the table, they do it piece by piece,” he said. “I think the American decision reflects the American position – and the Palestinians have to wake up to reality.”
The Palestinian Authority started boycotting the Trump Administration in December 2017 following the president’s announcement that he would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. This declaration was followed in May 2018 by the formal opening a US Embassy in the city.
Previous US policy stated that the status of Jerusalem would be decided by the parties to the conflict.
In 2018, the US also announced it would cut its contribution to UNWRA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees. In addition, it recognized Israeli sovereignty over that part of the Golan Heights seized from Syria in the 1967 war.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Monday’s US policy change reflected “a historical truth – that the Jewish people are not foreign colonialists in Judea and Samaria.” He was using the biblical terms for the West Bank.
The State Department’s new stance drew widespread international condemnation.
Russia warned that the decision would “escalate” tensions, while both the UN and the European Union said settlements remained illegal.
Regarding the EU, Inbar said he was not surprised.
“Europeans have always been more sensitive to the Palestinian issue than the Americans have…,” he told The Media Line. “This is not something new. There is a lot of anti-Americanism in Europe, as well as anti-Semitism.”
Jordan, one of two Arab states having a signed peace agreement with Israel, condemned the decision. Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said the policy shift would have “dangerous consequences” for the prospects of reviving the peace talks, calling settlements “a blatant violation of international law.”
Ayalon believes the decision’s timing was no accident, saying it was aimed at boosting Netanyahu’s chances of putting together a government before the country, at a political stalemate, goes to an unprecedented third election in less than a year.
He also thinks it might be President Trump’s way of bringing PA President Mahmoud Abbas back to the peace table.
“Trump has a grudge against Abbas because he insulted the US ambassador to Israel, and because he [Abbas] challenged the US administration,” he said. “With Trump, a lot is personal.”
Ashrawi contends that the US president is using the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to further his own interests ahead of the 2020 presidential election.
“He is being motivated by… his so-called base and [wants] to deliver [these voters] in the whole context of the upcoming elections. But he is also facing impeachment hearings,” she told The Media Line.
“He is not only changing the subject, he is telling the pro-Israel extremist elements in the US that ‘I’m coming to support Israel no matter what, and therefore you have to vote for me,’” she said.
Palestinians and Israelis react to Pompeo statement on settlements