The Trump administration on Monday reversed a four-decade-old U.S. government position by claiming that Jewish settlements built on the occupied West Bank are not “inconsistent with international law.”
The administration’s reversal was announced by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and was immediately cast by supporters and critics alike as a victory for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is clinging to power following a pair of inconclusive Israeli elections.
The reversal is also seen as a defeat for Palestinians.
Pompeo, speaking at the State Department, said that U.S. statements about the West Bank settlements, which Israel captured in the Six Day War in 1967 after being attacked by Jordan, Egypt, and Syria, were inconsistent.
He said that Democrat President Jimmy Carter in 1978 found they were not consistent with international law while his successor, Republican President Ronald Reagan, said in 1981 that he did not find them inherently illegal.
“The establishment of Israeli civilian settlements is not, per se, inconsistent with international law,” Pompeo told reporters.
The reversal is the third major U.S. policy shift toward Israel under Trump and against positions taken by Palestinians and Arab states.
In 2017, as he promised on the campaign trail, Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The following year, the U.S. formally opened an embassy in that city.
U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama had all promised to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s rightful capital and move the U.S. embassy there, but did not.
Previously, U.S. policy had been that the status of Jerusalem was to be decided by parties to the disagreement, though several proposals over the years offered by the U.S., Israel, and allies have all been rejected by the Palestinians.
In March, the president recognized Israel’s 1981 annexation of the Golan Heights, a boost for Netanyahu but one which drew sharp criticism from Syria, which once claimed the strategic land used to stage invasions of Israel.