Trump’s New Policy on Israeli Settlements Is Illegal & Self-Serving

This pandering at the expense of the Palestinians is designed to burnish the president’s  bona fides with his Christian Zionist base, writes Marjorie Cohn.

By Marjorie Cohn

Thumbing his nose at the Geneva Convention, the Rome Statute, the UN Security Council, the UN General Assembly and the International Court of Justice, President Donald Trump decided that Israel’s unlawful construction of Jewish settlements in occupied Palestinian territory is lawful. This policy change is part of Trump’s pattern of seeking to legalize illegal Israeli practices. It panders to Israel at the expense of the Palestinians while aiming to burnish Trump’s bona fides with his Christian Zionist base. Christian Broadcasting Network quoted Jack Graham, pastor of the megachurch Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, as saying that the Trump administration “once again has demonstrated why evangelical Christians have been unwavering in their support.”

“The timing of this was not tied to anything that had to do with domestic politics anywhere in Israel or otherwise,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed, denying that the change in policy was designed to benefit Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who’s locked in a tight battle for political survival.

[Before the Nov. 21 news of Netanuyahu’s corruption charges], Rabbi Alissa Wise, acting co-executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace, said, “It’s hardly a surprise that on the eve of Netanyahu’s indictment and Trump’s impeachment proceedings we suddenly have the Trump administration throwing the Geneva Convention and international consensus out the window and shamelessly pandering to the right-wing and evangelical base.”

Walking in lockstep with Netanyahu, Trump also illegally declared Jerusalem the capital of Israel. And three months after he illegally recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, Netanyahu named a new — and illegal — settlement under construction, “Trump Heights.”

Entrance to “Trump Heights” in the Golan Heights. (RoeeMos, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

On Nov. 18, Pompeo announced the end of the United States’ 41-year policy of considering Israeli settlements to be unlawful. “The establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not per se inconsistent with international law,” Pompeo declared.

In 1978, the Carter administration adopted the position detailed in a letter written by State Department Legal Advisor Herbert Hansell. It concluded that “the establishment of the civilian settlements in [the occupied Palestinian] territories is inconsistent with international law.” Hansell’s letter cited Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits an occupying power from transferring “parts of its own civilian population into the territories it occupies.” The letter stated that just because territory comes “under the control of a belligerent occupant,” it “does not thereby become its sovereign territory.”

Israel’s False Self-Defense Narrative

After the 1967 war, Israeli military forces occupied Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights. The narrative that Israel acted in self-defense when it attacked Egypt, Jordan and Syria and seized those Palestinian territories is a false one.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announcing new U.S. settlement policy on Nov. 18. (YouTube)

Security Council Resolution 242, passed in 1967, specifies “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war.” In 2016, the Council reiterated that language in Resolution 2334, which condemned Israel for the establishment of settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem. The Resolution says that the building of settlements “has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law.”

The United States abstained from Resolution 2334. Barack Obama allowed it to pass by not vetoing it. Just before Trump took office, he tried unsuccessfully to keep the resolution from reaching the Council floor. In addition to pandering to his evangelical base, Trump is reversing still another Obama achievement. Pompeo admitted that the new policy is a rejection of Obama’s failure to veto Resolution 2334.

In 2004, the International Court of Justice issued an advisory opinion stating that the “settlements have been established in breach of international law.” The court cited the Security Council’s characterization of Israel’s policy of establishment of settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory as a “flagrant violation” of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

The Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court considers an occupying power’s direct or indirect transfer “of parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies” to be a war crime.

Over 600,000 Israelis live in settlements in the occupied West Bank, including occupied East Jerusalem. About 3 million Palestinians live there.

Saeb Erekat in 2015. (Alan Kotok/Flickr)

Saeb Erekat, chief Palestinian negotiator and secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, condemned the Trump administration’s “unceasing attempts to replace international law with the ‘law of the jungle.’” He called on the global community to resist the new U.S. policy. “Israel’s colonial-settlement enterprise perpetuates the negation of the Palestinian right to self-determination,” Erekat said.

“Israeli settlements in occupied territory are illegal,” Bernie Sanders tweeted. “This is clear from international law and multiple United Nations resolutions. Once again, Mr. Trump is isolating the United States and undermining diplomacy by pandering to his extremist base.”

Trump has made explicit what has long been implicit: The United States directly enables Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian lands and oppression of the Palestinians. As journalist Ali Abunimah tweeted, the U.S. proclamation that Israeli settlements do not violate international law “is merely a shedding of the fiction that the U.S. has ever opposed Israel’s land-theft colonies. It changes nothing but makes clear to all that the U.S. and Israel are partners in crime.”

Marjorie Cohn is professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers and a member of the advisory board of Veterans for Peace. Her most recent book is Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues.”

This article is from Truthout and reprinted with permission.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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9 comments for “Trump’s New Policy on Israeli Settlements Is Illegal & Self-Serving

  1. November 25, 2019 at 04:09

    he West Bank and to all intents and purposes are the only Palestinian territory occupied by colonial, zionist settlers. That which is called “Israel” is *also* Occupied Palestine and has been since 1948 at the latest.
    If the world had treated the Palestinians fairly then Israel would be at peace and the region would be infinitely richer from nothing other than the peace dividend. Add the influx of Palestinian compensation funds spreading through the Israel’s economy and the latter would never have required a single cent of financial aid, either civilian or military.

  2. Hank
    November 22, 2019 at 14:29

    Keep it up Donald!

    “We’re going to win in a landslide.”- Clinton campaign in 2016

    “We’re going to win in a landslide.”- Trump camp in 2019

    That giant bloc that gave Trump the EASY benefit of the doubt over a war criminal should now be prepared to have another “upset party” come 2020! I have given up on Herr Trump, regardless of the obstacles he has had to face. he isn’t willing to put his hind end on this line enough for those who put him in the Oval Office. he’ll have his braindead bloc of the party assured, as all parties do, but he has already lost a significant portion of the American populace, regardless of what the phony polls say!

  3. Sally Snyder
    November 22, 2019 at 12:12

    As shown in this article, there is one crime that Israel is guilty of that receives almost no coverage in the mainstream media:

    Similar actions by one of the Axis of Evil nations, Russia or China, would be grounds for economic sanctions and the threat of military intervention, however, as we all know, generations of American politicians have proven themselves to be quite adept when it comes to ignoring the bad behaviours of Israel.

  4. AnneR
    November 22, 2019 at 08:00

    Thank you for this article, Ms Cohn.

    I would only quibble over one aspect, term: the West Bank and to all intents and purposes are the only Palestinian territory occupied by colonial, zionist settlers. That which is called “Israel” is *also* Occupied Palestine and has been since 1948 at the latest. You cannot steal another peoples’ lands and homes and then pretend that you are *not* occupying it.

  5. Moi
    November 22, 2019 at 02:57

    According to the MSM, to date the United States has provided Israel $142.3 billion in bilateral assistance and defence funding.

    There were 750,000 Palestinian refugees registered with the UN after the naqba. If, back then, the world had given each and every refugee the equivalent of USD190k in today’s currency as compensation, the middle east would be a radically more peaceful and prosperous place. The US would not have paid one cent more than they already have in reacting to the unfairness they in the past, at best, ignored.

    If the world had treated the Palestinians fairly then Israel would be at peace and the region would be infinitely richer from nothing other than the peace dividend. Add the influx of Palestinian compensation funds spreading through the Israel’s economy and the latter would never have required a single cent of financial aid, either civilian or military.

    The disgusting thing is that it’s not likely to end any time soon unless the Palestinian issue is dealt with fairly. Vast sume will be wasted on military posturing instead of generating economic growth.

    It’s insanity for the White House to keep supporting the cause of the conflict then providing “military assistance” for the blowback.

    IMHO the Palestinians should be uplifted – just like the US uplifted Israel.

    The reason? Because disadvantaged people have a higher birth rate than affluent people. If the Palestinians are not uplifted then Israel will be surrounded by an exponentially increasing number of enemies. In military terms, quantity has a quality all its own.

    Exponential population growth will ensure there comes a time when the quantity of enemies will swamp the quality of Israel’s defences. That is, failure to uplift the Palestinians will inevitably ensure the defeat of Israel.

  6. SteveK9
    November 21, 2019 at 22:03

    Trump has done something useful again, by removing the veil one more time. Of course this changes nothing. This will simply put the final nail in the coffin of the ‘two-state solution’, and one can consider exactly what the future will hold. Can Israel maintain a racist, apartheid state (one state) forever?

  7. JWalters
    November 21, 2019 at 20:52

    Why is virtually the entire U.S. political and press establishment silent about the glaring crimes and injustices of Israel’s 70 year campaign of terrorism, mass murder, and mass land thefts? It is not plausible that they are all unaware of these atrocities. The only reasonable answer I can see is that they are afraid. Israel not only rules Palestine by terrorism, it also rules America by terrorism. People are afraid they will lose their high-paying jobs, or even worse, their lives. No one wants to end up like Jeffrey Epstein, the MC at Israel’s blackmail island.

  8. Drew Hunkins
    November 21, 2019 at 20:35

    “This pandering at the expense of the Palestinians is designed to burnish the president’s bona fides with his Christian Zionist base.”

    They’re the secondary target of the Trump pander Marjorie.

    The Trump regime’s number one reason for this blatant flouting of international law and global sensibilities is to appease Sheldon Adelson, Paul Singer and Bernie Marcus; three multi-billionaire campaign funders who are ardent pro-Israel zealots and dangerous warmongering sociopaths. Certain Zionists are providing Trump a bit of support as he faces down the corporate Dems’ attempts to impeach b/c the Wall St Dems want to keep the public’s eye off Brennan, Clapper, Comey, Podesta and the DNC’s role in the giant Russiagate canard.

    • AnneR
      November 23, 2019 at 07:17

      Yes, Drew. Couldn’t agree more. It is these people that Trump is pandering to – and, I would add, his daughter and her hubby.

      Meanwhile, Congress panders to AIPAC and its background zionist promoters and supporters (and the DNC/Killary camp to the Dem funder Haim Saban) and the Palestinians get screwed time after time, as they have ever since 1917.

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