Editorial: Trump stupidly erases 40 years of U.S. opposition to Israeli West Bank settlements
Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War in 1967 left it in control of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights and the Sinai Peninsula. Just a month later, it built its first civilian Israeli settlement on occupied territory.
That was five decades ago, and as the settlements have grown and spread, the world has condemned them as an illegal exploitation of land seized in war. There’s little doubt that the settlements are provocative, illegitimate and an obstacle — perhaps an insurmountable obstacle — to a two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Because of its close alliance with Israel, the United States has been somewhat less outspoken over the years than other countries in its public condemnation of the settlements. But the official State Department position since the so-called Hansell Memorandum of 1978 has been that civilian settlements in the territories are “inconsistent with international law.”
Until now. The impetuous and irresponsible Trump administration announced Monday that, effective immediately, the United States government no longer considers Israeli settlements illegal. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo, who made the announcement, said the administration was merely recognizing “the reality on the ground.”
The Trump administration makes wrong decisions on a day-to-day basis, but this unnecessary giveaway to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel’s hard-liners is one of its dumbest moves yet. It could delay peace for many years.
There’s little disagreement around the world that the settlements are a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and of United Nations Resolution 242, which calls for Israel to retreat to the pre-1967 borders. As long ago as 1975, the Los Angeles Times editorial page called the settlements an “obstacle to peace.”
At that time, there were fewer than 5,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank. Today there are nearly 400,000. That doesn’t count those in the Golan Heights or the approximately 200,000 in traditionally Arab East Jerusalem.
Monday’s move again aligns the Trump administration with Netanyahu and other Israeli hawks whose bad decisions (along with plenty of bad decisions by the Palestinians) have nearly destroyed the once-promising peace process. Among other things, Trump has recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, moved the U.S. Embassy there and recognized the Golan Heights as Israeli territory.
One can only hope that when the reckless Trump administration is finally driven out of office, it will not be too late to re-position the U.S. as a constructive proponent of a just, secure and durable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
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