Bold measure changes narrative for future Middle East peace negotiations
By: Fern Sidman
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday, rescinded a 1978 State Department opinion called the Hansell Memorandum, which claimed that civilian settlements in Judea and Samaria are “inconsistent with international law.” He made these statements and others regarding foreign policy in Iran and other countries around the world in a press conference at the State Department headquarters in Washington, DC. The move angered Palestinians and put the U.S. at odds with nations that favor their position, according to a World Israel News report.
According to a report that appeared in the Jerusalem Post, the State Department’s legal office embarked on a year-long review of the Hansell Memo and met with international law experts and officials from various governments.
WIN reported that the State Department issued the Hansell Memo in 1978 under the Carter administration, but President Ronald Reagan rejected its conclusion in 1981.
The State Department undertook review of the memo after the Obama administration, in one of its final moves, facilitated the United Nations Security Council’s passage of Resolution 2334 in December 2016, which condemned Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria as “flagrant violations” of international law and with “no legal validity,” the Post reported.
An op-ed piece entitled, “Opinion: Critics Doubt Legal Character of ECJ” that appeared on the Israel National News web site on November 14th and was written by Yardena Cohen. The author wrote that a recent editorial in the New York City based Jewish Voice indicated that in 1978, an attorney named Herbert Hansell, at the specific request of the Carter Administration, authored a memorandum stating Israeli settlements violate international law.
Ms. Cohen also wrote that the Jewish Voice termed the memorandum, which is still valid, “ammunition from Jimmy Carter’s State Department”, and urged the need “to put the U.S. State Department on the side of truth”.
The Jewish Voice (jewishvoiceny.com) editorial said settlements are not illegal according to any international law and that illegality allegations were “only an opinion and not a fact”.
“That this opinion against the settlements has been allowed to stand is, in itself, morally wrong,” said the Jewish Voice, adding that a settlement illegality stance “allows Israel’s critics the advantage of controlling the discussion and grounding it in the terms they choose”. Rescinding the State Department opinion would “strike a blow against the siege machinery that Israel’s enemies utilize,” the Jewish Voice said, adding that “It’s time to remove this shame.”
WIN reported that the Trump administration concluded that the Hansell Memo represents a distraction, and that any legal decision about the issue is appropriate for resolution by Israeli courts, according to a draft of Pompeo’s remarks obtained by The Associated Press.
“Calling the establishment of civilian settlements inconsistent with international law has not advanced the cause of peace,” Pompeo announced. “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.”
“We recognized the reality on the ground. … and provided a space for Israel and the Palestinians to negotiate,” Pompeo added, according to the WIN report.
Pompeo commented that U.S. policy has been inconsistent for decades, Times of Israel reported, pointing to statements by President Barack Obama’s Secretary of State John Kerry and his declarations that Israeli “settlements” were “illegal.”
“The establishment of Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria is not, per se, inconsistent with international law,” said Pompeo, as was reported by World Israel News.
“Calling the establishment of settlement inconsistent with international law has not worked,” he added. “It cannot bring peace.”
Previous U.S. policies under the Trump administration have included the decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the movement of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and the shuttering of the Palestinian diplomatic office in Washington.
WIN reported that according to a 2019 report sponsored by Bet El Institutions, the population in Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria grew to 449,508 as of Jan. 1, 2019 up 3.3 percent from 435,159 people one year earlier.
Even though the Trump Administration’s decision is largely symbolic, it could also give a boost to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is fighting for his political survival after he was unable to form a coalition government following recent elections.
In addition, it could spell further trouble for the Trump administration’s Mideast peace plan.
The INN op-ed piece by Yardena Cohen that was previously referenced in this article said that the European Court of Justice’s settlement-illegality ruling on 12 November, widely interpreted as being gravely problematic for Israel as it requires produce of Israeli “settlements” to be labeled. The ECJ release urged consumers to “make informed choices” regarding “observance of international law”, insisting Israel’s settlements are in “breach of international law.”
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) is comprised of a group of judges originating from European member-states, tasked with interpreting EU law and with ensuring equal application of EU law across all EU member states.
According to the WIN report, the policy shift is a victory for Prime Minister Netanyahu, a longtime booster of the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, and had been strongly supported by US Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman. Friedman was a major fundraiser for Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria before becoming ambassador.
Israel liberated the lands of Judea and Samaria from the occupying Jordanian forces, including eastern portions of Jerusalem, in 1967’s Six-Day War. It represented a military conflict during which four Arab states attacked Israel. Israel defeated all Arab aggressors in the conflict in nothing short of an open miracle from Heaven.
INN reported on Monday that Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke on the phone with President Trump and expressed his thanks to him. Netanyahu told Trump that he had “corrected an historic injustice,” and that someone had to tell the simple truth and he did that, as he had done in recognizing the Golan Heights and in the relocation of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
“We are not in a foreign country, this has been our homeland for over 3000 years. The reason why we are called ‘Jews’ is because we came from here, from Judea. It does not prevent negotiations, on the contrary–it promotes peace because it is impossible to build true peace based on lies,” said Netanyahu.
In an opinion piece published by Israel Hayom on Monday night, veteran journalist, news analyst and acclaimed author Caroline Glick wrote that the Trump administration’s declaration that Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria do not violate international law marks a “revolutionary” change in the American position on the issue, and constitutes “an extraordinary gesture of support for Israel.”
“Mike Pompeo’s statement Monday that Israeli settlements are not illegal per se is the most significant shift in U.S. Middle East policy in the past generation,” wrote Glick, according to an INN report.
In America, several Democratic presidential hopefuls lined up to strongly condemn the Trump administration’s declaration on the Israeli settlements.
Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), the far-left wing socialist candidate who is seeking the Democratic party’s presidential nomination, on Monday rejected Pompeo’s statement.
“Israeli settlements in occupied territory are illegal. 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,” wrote Sanders.
Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) who is also seeking the presidency in 2020 said Monday that Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria “make peace harder to achieve.”
“Another blatantly ideological attempt by the Trump administration to distract from its failures in the region. Not only do these settlements violate international law—they make peace harder to achieve. As president, I will reverse this policy and pursue a two state solution,” Warren tweeted.
INN reported that former VP and Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden on Monday criticized the announcement by the Trump administration.
A statement from Biden’s campaign spokesman shared with Jewish Insider said that “this decision harms the cause of diplomacy, takes us further away from the hope of a two-state solution, and will only further inflame tensions in the region. It’s not about peace or security. It is not about being pro-Israel. It is about undercutting Israel’s future in service of Trump’s personal politics.”
The spokesman said that “Vice President Biden is and has always been a strong supporter of Israel”, but insisted, “Critical to that strong support is the understanding that the best way to ensure Israel’s future security as a Jewish and democratic state is for Israelis and Palestinians to work together toward a two-state solution. That’s also the only way to achieve the legitimate rights and freedoms the Palestinian people deserve.”
In a statement issued to the media in the immediate aftermath of the State Department announcement regarding the status of Israeli settlements, former Brooklyn assemblyman and veteran Jewish activist Dov Hikind said, “It’s another bold move by the president that goes a long way towards correcting historic wrongs perpetuated by anti-Semites about the Jewish connection to the land of Israel. Thank you President Trump for being courageous!”
He added: “For years, the Palestinians have been pushing the narrative that Jews have no historic connection to their ancestral homeland, and “settlements” are an obstacle to peace. Today, that narrative has been turned on its face by the Trump administration. After recognizing that Israeli “settlements” have never been factually “illegal,” and that adoption of such terminology can be traced to the Carter administration, and more recently to the Obama administration, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has reversed the injustice of calling Jews who live in Judea and Samaria “illegal settlers.”
Speaking on behalf of the more than 950 members of the Igud HaRabanim/Rabbinical Alliance of America, Rabbi Yaakov Spivak, a Presidium Member and lifelong Jewish activist, issued the following statement:
“The Rabbinical Alliance of America applauds the historic decision of President Donald Trump in recognizing Israel’s right to settlements in Judea and Samaria. This recognition places Donald Trump in the history books as having had a hand in initiating the restoration of the Biblical State of Israel, a restoration which, for almost two thousand years, has constituted the hopes and dreams of billions of people of different faiths the world over.”
Rabbi Mendy Mirocznik, Executive Vice President of the Rabbinical Alliance, stated: “The lack of recognition of Israel’s right to Judea and Samaria results in reverting Israel’s borders to the pre-1967 lines, boundaries which Abba Eban called ‘Auschwitz Borders.’ That situation would put Israel’s civilian population within range of enemy artillery, a situation which is unacceptable if not suicidal.”
Rabbi Spivak expressed the hope of the Rabbinical Alliance that this firm stand by President Trump would convince Israel’s enemies that their only hope is to come to the peace table with Israel, and thus will be fulfilled Leviticus 26:6: “And I shall give peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid.”
Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) President Morton A. Klein, ZOA Chairman Mark Levenson, Esq. and ZOA Director of Special Projects Elizabeth Berney, Esq. released the following statement:
“President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo displayed tremendous courage, integrity and moral and legal clarity yesterday when the administration issued its historic, landmark decision acknowledging the truth that Jewish communities, homes and businesses in Judea/Samaria are not illegal under international law. If fact, Jewish communities, etc. in Judea/Samaria are unequivocally legal under international law. It is an occasion for Jews and people everywhere who love justice to rejoice and celebrate that the Trump administration reversed the hateful, baseless, Orwellian, Israelophobic, antisemitic policies of the Obama and Carter administrations towards Jews living in the heart of the Jewish homeland.”
Farley Weiss, the president of the National Council of Young Israel (NCYI) said in a statement issued to the media: “The National Council of Young Israel welcomes the Secretary of State’s announcement concerning the status of the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria and thanks the Trump administration for undertaking the comprehensive legal analysis that led to this long-awaited change in U.S. policy. With its special status as a vital part of Israel’s ancestral homeland and its longstanding ties to the Jewish people, Judea and Samaria is as much a part of Israel as any other Israeli municipality and Jews have an absolute right to build there, live there, and raise a family there.”
The NCYI noted that Judea and Samaria, which is home to many Jewish holy sites, including the burial places of the forefathers and foremothers of the Jewish people, was returned to Israeli sovereignty in a defensive war after Jordan attacked Israel in 1967 in an effort to destroy the Jewish State.
Also on Monday, Pastor John Hagee, the founder and Chairman of Christians United for Israel (CUFI), expressed support for the Trump administration’s revocation of the Hansell Memorandum.
In a statement sent to the media, Pastor Hagee said, “I want to express my profound appreciation to President Donald Trump for his bold and courageous support of Israel and the Jewish people. Thank you, Secretary Pompeo for revoking the Hansell opinion of 1978 that held civilian settlements in Israel were not legal under international law.
“CUFI has opposed the Hansell opinion, as it pre-judged the outcome of any future discussions between Israel and the Palestinians; as such, we welcome its revocation.
“The revocation of the Hansell memorandum is the latest in the Trump administration’s consistent and considerable support for our ally Israel: from standing with Israel in her efforts to combat terrorists, to recognizing the fact that Jerusalem is the eternal and undivided capital of Israel, to moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. We are grateful to President Trump for treating Israel like an ally and respecting the will of the Israeli people as expressed by their elected government.
“God bless you Mr. President, and God bless you Secretary of State Pompeo. Thank you for this historic decision.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), member of0 the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on Monday released the following statement in response to the Trump administration’s decision to recognize the reality of Israeli control over communities in territories Israel has controlled since June 1967:
“For too long, the United States has been slow to acknowledge the basic reality that our Israeli allies have sovereignty over their territories, and today the administration took steps to right that wrong. It’s up to our Israeli allies to make their own decisions about what to do with their territories.
“Today’s decision also takes another step in reversing the disgraceful legacy of the Obama administration and United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334. That resolution falsely denied Israel’s sovereignty over its territories, including the Jewish Quarter and Old City of Jerusalem, and called on all U.N. states to do the same. I have long pushed for policies that demonstrate to the world that the United States considers Resolution 2334 null and void, and the Trump administration has taken several such steps, including by moving our embassy to Jerusalem and recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Today’s announcement is another welcome move discarding that shameful resolution.”
Sen. Cruz has long called for the United States to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, as well as Israel’s sovereignty over its territories, including the Golan Heights. Sen. Cruz attended the opening ceremony of the United States’ embassy in Jerusalem and penned an op-ed for the Jerusalem Post marking the historic occasion.