The Independent Corrects Error on Israeli Settlements
A February 2 story at The Independent by Jonathan Owen, titled ‘Scarlett Johansson split with Oxfam may deter celebrity charity work‘, included the following passage:
One of SodaStream’s main factories is in Ma’aleh Adumim, an Israeli settlement in the West Bank which bodies such as the UN, the EU and the US government say are illegal under international law.
However, while it is true that UN and EU officials typically characterize Israeli communities across the green line as “illegal” – based on extremely specious legal logic– this is not true of the U.S., which has consistently refrained from rendering a legal decision about their status, opting instead recently for the more generic term, “illegitimate.”
Even the New York Times has acknowledged this distinction:
The United States has not taken a position on the settlements’ legality for several decades, saying instead, according to the State Department, “We do not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement activity.”
As Elliott Abrams, writing for the Council on Foreign Relations, explained:
The U.S. position has fluctuated over time. In the Reagan years, the United States said the settlements were “not illegal.” The Clinton and George H.W. Bush administrations avoided the legal arguments but criticized the settlements frequently. President George W. Bush called the larger settlement blocs “new realities on the ground” that would have to be reflected in peace negotiations.
More recently, the official U.S. attitude has been more critical. In 2011, the Obama administration vetoed a UN Security Council resolution calling the settlements “illegal” but former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice then denounced “the folly and illegitimacy” of continued Israeli settlement activity. “The United States of America views all of the settlements as illegitimate,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in August 2013.
The United States is the main broker of peace between Israel and the Palestinians, so American officials have tended toward pragmatic approaches. U.S. officials have viewed settlement expansion as an obstacle to peace talks and the conclusion of a comprehensive peace agreement, and opposed it on those practical grounds.
U.S. officials have tried to avoid an argument over the legal status of the settlements, instead urging that expansion is a bad policy. The use of the term “illegitimate” rather than “illegal” suggests a desire to express disapproval as a political judgment without getting bogged down in arguments over the international legal status of the Palestinian territories and Israel’s actions in them.
After we contacted Indy editors to complain about their characterization of the U.S. position, they agreed to revise the passage in question. It now reads:
One of SodaStream’s main factories is in Ma’aleh Adumim, an Israeli settlement in the West Bank which bodies such as the UN and the EU say are illegal under international law. The US government regards such settlements as ‘illegitimate’.
We commend Indy editors for their prompt decision to correct this false claim.
Adam Levick is the managing editor of CiF Watch, an affiliate of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA).