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Opening the door to Israeli de jure annexation of the West Bank, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declares West Bank Settlements not a violation of International Law

November 20, 2019

Israel continues to pound Gaza. The U.S. media and political class is silent, refusing to condemn Israeli war crimes. This photo is from 2018, when every Friday Palestinian Gazans peacefully protested at the Gaza fence only to be shot down in droves, wounded by the thousands by Israeli snipers.

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U.S Secretary of State Mike Pompeo: “The establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not, per se, inconsistent with international law.”

Palestinian Spokesman Saeb Erekat: “Israeli colonial settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem, are not only illegal under international law, they are war crimes. And the statement of Mr. Pompeo, the secretary of state of the United States, is absolutely rejected and must be condemned.”

Noura Erakat, Palestinian human rights attorney and legal scholar: “I would actually temper that a little bit: This is not necessarily a reversal in U.S. policy, only in its stated policy. For 50 — for more than five decades, since 1967, all U.S. administrations have talked out of both sides of their mouth. On the one hand, they have condemned settlements as counterproductive to peace and as a contravention of international law, and, on the other hand, have provided Israel with the unequivocal diplomatic, military and financial aid in order to entrench their settlements”

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In a recent interview at Democracy Now, Palestinian attorney and author referred to Pompeo’s remarks as “not a sharp reversal of U.S. foreign policy on the question of settlements and Palestine, but instead the culmination of it.” She noted that before leaving office the Obama Administration abstained from supporting the December, 2016 U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334 condemning the settlements as a flagrant violation of international law while increasing U.S. aid to Israel from $3 billion annually to $3.8 billion. That resolution passed by a vote of 14 to 0 with only Washington abstaining.

Erakat went on to describe the situation in the West Bank as “700,000 settlers living in the midst of a population of 3 million Palestinians, who, because of those 700,000 settlers, who are living in exclusive colonial settlements, surrounded by military and civilian Israeli infrastructure — cuts up Palestinian life into 20 non-contiguous Bantustans, where they can’t reach one another. We’re talking about the subjugation of a Palestinian population at the whim of these illegal colonial settlements.”

An accurate assessment.

Pompeo’s opinion holds no legal status whatsoever where it concerns international law, and in fact, is in violation of it. It comes on the heels of the Trump Administration recognizing Israel’s 1981 annexation of the Syrian Golan Heights, an annexation condemned by the United Nations as in violation of international law. It is understood in many quarters as little more than a cynical gesture on the part of the Trump Administration to bolster Binjamin Netanyahu’s slim hold on power in Israel.

It also opens the door to U.S. support for a full Israeli annexation of the West Bank during the Trump presidency.

Pompeo’s statement needs to be placed within a regional context, the ever-shifting balance of power in the Middle East and U.S. attempts to block and reverse growing Iranian influence throughout the region. As part and parcel of the U.S. response, in the past weeks, and in an effort to bolster its sagging regional position, Israel also launched a deadly attack on Gaza that attacked scores, a multiple air strike against targets in Syria presumably against “Iranian targets” coordinated with U.S. encouragement of protests in Iran over increased gasoline prices. At last count, the latest news reports Israeli aircraft have struck more than 2,000 targets in Gaza and killed over 300 Palestinians since start of the fighting. 50,000 Gazans have been rendered  homeless.

As always by targeting Iranian positions in Syria, Israel hopes to provoke an Iranian military response which would draw the United States more directly into conflict militarily. As always, Iran refused to take Israel’s bait and will respond in its own time and manner.

From the looks of it, Israel remains militarily strong and “in control” in the region, that is the image Netanyahu is trying to project. But nothing could be further from the truth. Israel is trouble today. Its opponents increasingly have learned how to engage in asymmetrical warfare with Tel Aviv, this is especially true of Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Israel’s ability to provoke a war with Iran, to draw Washington into such a war look increasingly unlikely. Iran’s influence in the region is growing at the expense of Israel and Saudi Arabia. It is within this regional context that Israel is considering taking its long held and nurtured plans out of the drawer to formally annex the West Bank.

Tables have turned some.

Today it is Israel’s position in the region that is increasingly shaky and U.S. influence in the Middle East increasingly shrinking and rudderless. American support might be unwavering, but it too is an increasingly weaker, less respected ally today unable to deliver for Israel as in the past. More and more, Israel is acting out of increasing weakness, not strength, despite the size of its military and American support.

Given the events in Syria, Israel’s position in the region is deteriorating some, its ability to diktat regional policy shrinking. Regionally speaking, along with Saudi Arabia – formerly its tacit ally, now openly so – Tel Aviv is the big regional loser. It strikes Syria in desperation, what the Russians referred to in a statement as “a wrong move.” It moves closer to outright annexing the West Bank as a defensive move to prepare for a more uncertain future where its regional military options have become increasingly limited.

The fact of the matter is that with the Syrian government check mating U.S. attempts to balkanize the country as it did de facto in Iraq and Libya the balance of power in the region has shifted. Neither the United States, Israel nor the Saudis call the shots to the degree they did just a few years ago, they are at sea as to how to proceed, unaccustomed to having to negotiate rather than dictate policy. Some of the most recent developments – the Turkish incursion into northeastern Syria with a green light from Washington, the redeployment of U.S. troops from northeast Syria to Syrian oil fields east of the Euphrates – are futile attempts at political damage control, efforts to redress the former strategic balance.

It ain’t gonna work.

In this situation Israel understands that what is referred to ad nauseum as “its window of opportunity” will last only as long as Donald Trump remains at the helm in Washington and there are no assurances that he will be re-elected in 2020. With this regional shifting balance of power continuing to further limit Israel’s options, therefore now is the time to accomplish de jure what it has already done de facto – to annex the West Bank formally. It does so out of weakness, not strength in the face of the growing regional challenges. Pompeo’s statement denying the illegality of the settlements is Washington’s nod of approval.

Such a move can only be accomplished with yet a further expulsion, ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from the West Bank as was “accomplished” in 1948 when Israel was created.  With each murderous attack on Gaza, each Palestinian youth incarcerated, tortured – their youth destroyed in Israeli prisons – Israel has morphed into one of the worlds foremost pariah states.

It is counting on United States’ support to achieve its goals.

But 2019 is a far cry from 1948-9 and the United States today is no longer the reliable partner it was in the past, its influence throughout the Middle East continually shrinking. They just might not be able to get away with it this time.

One Comment leave one →
  1. William Conklin permalink
    November 20, 2019 7:52 am

    It is very encouraging to wake up and read an article arguing that Israel is losing control in the Middle East, this may be the beginning of positive change for Palestine. This article made my day!

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