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November 19, 2019 2:28 pm

Trump Administration Shift on Settlements Draws Mixed Responses From Jewish, Pro-Israel Groups in US

avatar by Ben Cohen

A general view picture shows houses in the Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim, in the West Bank, Feb. 15, 2017. Photo: Reuters / Ammar Awad / File.

The Trump administration’s decision to break with a long-standing US policy of regarding settlements in the West Bank as “inconsistent with international law” drew mixed responses from Jewish and pro-Israel organizations on Tuesday, with one top official expressing “trust” that the decision would not boost settlement activity “beyond the established blocs widely expected to be recognized as part of Israel in any conceivable two-state compromise.”

In a statement issued shortly after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared on Monday that the “establishment of Israeli civilian settlements is not, per se, inconsistent with international law,” David Harris — CEO of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) — noted that the US shift “relates to a question of international law which has been repeatedly used as a weapon against Israel on the world stage.”

In that regard, Harris stated his hope that Pompeo’s statement would “prompt a long overdue correction in international perceptions.” More than two-thirds of the 196 signatories to the 1949 Geneva Convention — which outlaws the transfer of civilians into territory controlled by an occupying power — currently maintain that the presence of Israeli communities in the West Bank is a violation of international law.

Israel has countered that the disputed territories were captured during a defensive war in 1967 in which its very survival was at stake, and that previous occupations by Egypt and Jordan could also have been deemed illegal.

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In his statement, the AJC’s Harris went on to underline that “at the same time, we trust [the US shift] will not serve as a predicate for increased settlement activity beyond the established blocs widely expected to be recognized as part of Israel in any conceivable two-state compromise.”

Pompeo’s observation that “‘this is a complex political problem that can only be solved by negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians’ has long been AJC’s position regarding the status of the Palestinian territories and of Israeli settlements,” Harris said. “In that regard, we continue to look to the US to play a facilitating role in the quest for resumed negotiations.”

A similar emphasis on the importance of direct negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel was visible in the response to Pompeo from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

“As we have consistently stated, the status of Israeli settlements, along with a number of other important issues, must be negotiated by the Israelis and Palestinians as part of a final status agreement between the two sides,” a spokesperson for the ADL told The Algemeiner in an email. “We recently endorsed a congressional resolution stating a continued commitment to the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the need to avoid unilateral actions that would make this objective harder to achieve.”

Meanwhile, AIPAC — the main pro-Israel lobbying organization based in Washington, DC — noted that it “does not take a position on settlements.”

“We believe settlements should be an issue for direct negotiations between the parties, not something determined by international bodies,” AIPAC stated on its Twitter feed. “The Palestinians must stop their boycott of US & Israeli officials and return to direct talks.”

AIPAC also retweeted statements from Ofir Gendleman, a spokesperson for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Benny Gantz, leader of Israel’s centrist Blue and White alliance, welcoming the Trump administration’s announcement.

Meanwhile, more fulsome praise for Trump and Pompeo came from the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), which lauded the administration for challenging what it called an “Orwellian antisemitic lie.”

A statement from ZOA’s leadership said: “We strongly praise President Trump, Secretary Pompeo and Ambassador Friedman for this deeply important new statement of US policy indicating that the notion that it is illegal and a war crime for Israeli Jews –– and only Israeli Jews, because they are Israeli Jews –– to live in the Jewish biblical, historic and legal heartland of the Jewish people is untrue and destructive of peace prospects.”

Pastor John Hagee of advocacy group Christians United for Israel (CUFI) was equally effusive in a statement responding to Pompeo’s remarks.

“America’s new position concerning Israel is a 180-degree reversal of the Obama administration’s position on the settlements,” Hagee argued.

Monday’s revocation of the 1978 “Hansell memorandum” — the legal opinion on Israeli settlements jettisoned by Pompeo — was “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 US embassy to Jerusalem and recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights,” Hagee added.

At the other end of the spectrum, trenchant criticism of the announcement was advanced by left-wing J Street, which openly  supports US diplomatic and economic pressure on Israel to reverse its present government’s settlement policies in the West Bank.

“This announcement is just the latest in a long series of actions by the Trump administration designed to aid the Israeli settlement movement, prevent a two-state solution and provide political gifts to Prime Minister Netanyahu,” J Street President Jeremy Ben Ami said in a statement.

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