In the latest reversal of long-standing United States policy in the Middle East, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared this week that Washington no longer views Israeli settlements in the West Bank as “inconsistent with international law.”
Pompeo framed the decision as a “reversal” of Obama administration policy. He said, “[Former] Secretary [of State John] Kerry changed decades of this careful bipartisan approach by publicly reaffirming the supposed illegality of settlements,” referring to a December 2016 resolution in the United Nations Security Council that termed the settlements illegal, which President Barack Obama permitted to pass by abstaining from the vote.
But in fact, Obama had been more tolerant of Israeli settlement than his predecessors. While he talked more often about their being an obstacle to peace, that abstention was the only time in his eight years in office that Obama had allowed a U.N. resolution critical of Israel to pass. By contrast, George W. Bush permitted six UNSC resolutions to which Israel objected to pass. Ronald Reagan permitted twenty.
Obama even vetoed a UNSC resolution whose text was almost verbatim U.S. policy, causing himself quite a bit of embarrassment in the international arena. On another occasion, Israel announced a new and highly controversial settlement in East Jerusalem while Vice President Joe Biden was in the country. The administration’s reaction was to do a reading of standard talking points and move on.
Distorting Obama’s record affects more than the president’s legacy. It increases the distortion of politics around Israel and its occupation. Obama emphasized actual Israeli security needs, which, in his view, included finding an agreement with the Palestinians, and lowering the temperature between Israel (and Saudi Arabia) and Iran. Trump has focused on crowd-pleasing, grandiose gestures like moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem a move that eliminated any possibility of diplomacy with the Palestinians; or leaving the Iran nuclear deal, which aggravated tensions with Iran, thereby making the environment considerably less secure for Israel. Much like the neoconservative strategies of the early part of the century, casting those who pursue diplomacy as a threat to security allows hawks to get away with making the region less secure for everyone. Read more at LobeLog
For many years, the Israeli government has waged what we might call a campaign of normalization regarding its military occupation of the West Bank. Israel has spared no effort to erase the demarcation between its internationally recognized boundaries—the territory Israel controlled prior to the 1967 war when it captured the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Sinai Peninsula, and Golan Heights—and the areas under military occupation.
The effort has never gotten the attention it deserves, and that problem has only gotten worse in recent years as the two-state solution has retreated further and further into the realm of fantasy. Still, its importance remains, whatever ultimate solution one supports. This week, a ruling by the European Court of Justice raised the issue again, and in doing so, clarified the importance of the issue.
The Court ruled that products made in Israeli settlements needed to be labeled as such, so that European consumers could make an informed choice as to whether they wanted to buy them. This is a long-standing regulation in Europe, one which the EU started to enforce in 2015, and which Israel has been fighting all along. The reactions to the latest ruling are typical. Read more at LobeLog
A poll conducted in September and October shows a growing acceptance by the American public of a single, democratic state for all Israelis and Palestinians. This position is considered anathema in much of the United States and certainly on Capitol Hill.
Yet according to the University of Maryland’s latest critical issues poll, 35 percent of Americans support a single, democratic state with equal rights for all as compared to 36 percent who still support the two-state solution. This parallels a low point in both Israeli and Palestinian support for two states. A joint Palestinian-Israeli poll released in August showed that only 43 percent of each side still supported the two-state program.
These results clearly demonstrate that the idea of a single, democratic state in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza is within the mainstream of American opinion. Read more at LobeLog
Both Barack Obama and Donald Trump wanted to change US policy toward both Israel-Palestine and Iran. When Obama arrived in the Oval Office, he brought an ambitious foreign policy plan with him. He wanted to diminish the heavy U.S. footprint in the Middle East, “pivot toward Asia,” and rebuild the confidence in the United States as a sober actor on the world stage that George W. Bush had undermined with his calamitous invasion of Iraq.
At the beginning of his first term—after he made his initial speech indicating a willingness to improve relations with Iran—Obama devoted his efforts and political capital to trying to bring a Palestinian state into being. He knew there would be political costs, and although he underestimated them, he understood that it would take all the political capital he had to have any chance at productive talks.
By 2012, Obama recognized that he was not going to get the grand bargain between Israel and the Palestinians that he had hoped for. So he turned his attention toward Iran. Working with U.S. allies in Europe and through the United Nations, he pushed for sanctions to bring Iran to the table. The pressure paved the way for the nuclear talks that would eventually lead, in 2015, to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the Iran nuclear deal.
Obama recognized that Israeli-Palestinian peace and the Iran nuclear deal were each very expensive in terms of political capital. He couldn’t afford to pursue both. It’s a lesson Donald Trump still doesn’t understand. Read more at LobeLog
The Irish Senate passed a bill last week that would criminalize doing any business, in goods or services, with Israeli settlements. As with most legislation that concerns Israeli settlement activity, the
Irish Senator Frances Black, who first proposed the anti-settlements bill
bill is already highly controversial. Supporters of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement have hailed it as a great victory while the usual suspects in and outside of Israel have leveled baseless accusations of anti-Semitism at Ireland and made disingenuous arguments to oppose any action against Israel’s blatantly illegal settlement program. Read more at LobeLog
In December, President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and announced his intention to move the US embassy there. Condemnations abounded, with great hand-wringing and troubled emotions. The United States had to veto an otherwise unanimous United Nations Security Council resolution condemning the decision but could not block a similar UN General Assembly resolution, which passed overwhelmingly.
Palestinians took to the streets in protest, as did other people across the Middle East and around the world, including in the United States itself. There was some violence, but it was not very different from protests against past Israeli actions. Outside of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, those protests came and went in a matter of weeks.
Inside the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, the US decision shattered the last shreds of credibility of the “peace process,” which was long used to keep the lid on Palestinians while settlements expanded. As a result, Donald Trump has become as much an enemy to Palestinians as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Read more at LobeLog
On March 30, the Israeli government announced that it had approved the first new settlement in 20 years. The new settlement is part of the government’s compensation package to the settlers of the recently evacuated outpost named Amona. The Israeli courts had ordered the demolition of this illegally built settlement for the first-time way back in 2006. This February, Amona was finally removed.
But despite the controversy over the new settlement, it’s not actually the first new one in 20 years. True, it’s the first settlement in that time that the government publicly planned and did not claim to be part of an existing settlement. But in that period, outposts that were ostensibly illegal under Israeli law, have become legal when they declared themselves part of an existing settlement somewhere in the same general area. More recently, outposts have been legalized retroactively under a new law. So, this is the “first new settlement” only in the most technical, and largely meaningless, sense.
More important are the steps that both the Israeli and US governments are taking in the wake of the Israeli announcement. These are the real indicators of the policy taking shape in the discussions between the Trump and Netanyahu governments. Read more at LobeLog