Sec of State Pompeo: Israeli Settlements Are No Longer Deemed “Illegal”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a press conference at the Department of State on November 18, 2019 in Washington, DC. Pompeo announced that the Trump administration does not consider Israeli settlements in the West Bank a violation of international law. Pompeo also spoke about protests in Iran, Iraq and Hong Kong. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Historic measure changes narrative for future Middle East peace negotiations 

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo rescinded a 1978 State Department opinion called the Hansell Memorandum, which claimed that civilian settlements in Judea and Samaria are “inconsistent with international law.” 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 by 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 penned by Yardena Cohen said 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 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”. 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.

In the op-ed piece by Yardena Cohen that was previously referenced in this article said, the European Court of Justice’s settlement-illegality ruling on 12 November, widely interpreted as being gravely problematic for Israel, requires produce of Israeli “settlements” to be labelled. 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 a group of judges 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, including eastern portions of Jerusalem, in 1967’s Six-Day War, a conflict during which four Arab states attacked Israel. Israel defeated all Arab aggressors in the conflict, with the constant help of Hashem. 

Former Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D) issued a statement in the immediate aftermath of the State Department announcement regarding the status of Israeli settlements, In it he 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,” said Hikind. “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.”

People tend to have very little understanding of the legalities surrounding nation-states and border disputes. Israelis living in Judea and Samaria has never been illegal and we’re happy that the Trump administration has recognized this salient fact. After decades of antisemites assaulting Jewish history at the UN and the EU, America has sent a strong message today: the Jewish people are here, have always been in Israel, and always will be. The only obstacles to peace are the distortion of history and terror ideology. Today, one of those two obstacles has been shattered.

I want to commend President Trump and Secretary Pompeo for showing true courage and leadership, yet again, in the face of vehement opposition by sordid world bodies that more readily glorify murderous regimes like Iran than recognize the basic facts of history and law. Democrats should take note.”

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.

 “America’s new position concerning Israel is a 180-degree reversal of the Obama administration’s position on the settlements. If the U.S. is to be a loyal and true friend to Israel, we cannot seek to impose our will upon the Jewish state.  We must honor the Jewish state’s sovereign right to make decisions on matters of war and peace, free of international interference.

 “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 of 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.

In a statement sent to the media, the Orthodox Union, the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization, applauded the United States Government’s common sense statement of position on Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria. The policy announcement made by Secretary of State Michael Pompeo says that “the establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not, per se, inconsistent with international law.”

Secretary Pompeo’s announcement was based on the review of a 1978 legal opinion, which had provided the basis for long-standing American policy. Secretary Pompeo further stated, “Calling the establishment of civilian settlements inconsistent with international law has not advanced the cause of peace. The hard truth is that there will never be a judicial resolution to the conflict.”

Eugene Kontorovich, director of the Center for International Law in the Middle East at George Mason University’s School of Law told JNS reporter Jackson Richman that the US announcement on Israeli settlements means that negotiations “will no longer begin from the premise that Israel has no claim to this land or stole it from the Palestinians. That false legal theory only served to harden Palestinian positions and make successful negotiations impossible.”

“The international-law arguments against settlements were devised solely for the case of Israel and have not been applied in any other situation,” he told JNS. “After 50 years, it is clear that these arguments do not reflect international law in practice, but rather a desire to put nice words on the argument that Jews should be banned from living in their homeland. Secretary Pompeo has torn the veil off these arguments.”

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.

“Today’s announcement that Israeli ‘settlements’ in Judea and Samaria are not fundamentally at odds with international law is a validation of our enduring belief that Israeli citizens have an absolute right to make their homes there and is a direct rebuttal to the false assertions that they are an impediment to peace,” Weiss added. “Rather than continuing to use the ‘settlements’ as a scapegoat, it is our hope that the international community will instead consider the rocket attacks against Israel, the terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens, the Palestinian Authority’s ‘pay to slay’ program, and the Palestinians’ ongoing opposition to the existence of a Jewish state in any borders as the true barriers to a lasting peace agreement.”

 “We thank President Trump, Secretary of State Pompeo and Young Israel member and friend Ambassador David Friedman for their ongoing support of the State of Israel and their steadfast defense of Israel on the world stage,” Weiss concluded.

By: Fern Sidman


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