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Palestinians outraged after US says Israeli settlement no longer illegal

A general view shows the Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba in Hebron, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank November 19, 2019.
A general view shows the Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba in Hebron, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank November 19, 2019. © REUTERS/Mussa Qawasma

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has hailed a US announcement that it no longer considers settlements in the occupied West Bank illegal. Palestinians were outraged after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington no longer regarded settlements as inconsistent with international law.

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Pompeo said that after legal consultation Washington had concluded the establishment of settlements was "not, per se, inconsistent with international law".

He said that the US was not necessarily considering the settlements legal either, but instead would defer to the judgement of Israeli courts. The majority of settlers live in settlements the courts have judged legal.

The decision is the latest in a series of pro-Israeli moves by Donald Trump's administration, including recognising the disputed city of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, moving the US embassy there and recognising Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, seized from Syria in the Six-Day War of 1967.

It puts the United States at odds with virtually the whole of the rest of the international community and breaks with UN Security Council resolutions declaring the settlements to be illegal as they are built on occupied land.

More than 600,000 Israelis live in settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, alongside more than three million Palestinians.

Netanyahu said the US shift “rights a historical wrong”.

Palestinians don’t agree.

'Grave violation'

“Pompeo’s statement itself is a grave violation of international law,” Amjad Shawa, Director of the Palestine NGO Network in Ramallah told RFI.

“The settlement activity in the West Bank and Jerusalem is a grave violation of international human rights law and international humanitarian law. It is considered a war crime. This statement indicates that the US administration is not interested anymore in sponsoring the peace process."

He also fears the US U-turn on settlements will encourage Israel to increase settlements.

“The US decision will be used by Israelis to legitimise their illegal settlement activities and to intensify them in the West Bank. It will destroy the national Palestinian project and the two-state solution,” he says.

Security Council

The Palestinian Authority, which considers the US biased and has rejected the Trump administration as a mediator, denounced the latest decision in the strongest terms.

Chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said Palestinians would take a series of measures to oppose it.

"We began deliberations in the UN to present a draft resolution in the Security Council," he said Tuesday.

"We expect a US veto but we will do it. Let the United States veto international law.

"We are going to the UN General Assembly and we will ask...the International Criminal Court to open an official judicial investigation with Israeli officials concerning settlements."

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