Pompeo Unveils Dangerous US Approach to Israeli Settlements

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

Ehud Gives Barack the Finger

The Israeli human rights group, Bimkom, has revealed that Defense Minister Ehud Barak has authorized the drawing up of plans for 300 new apartment units in the West Bank.

Such new building would be a slap in the face to the Obama administration under any circumstances. But the fact that the units are planned not for an authorized settlement (i.e., one which is legal under Israeli law, but, like all

Obama may not be feeling quite so chummy with Barak these days

Obama may not be feeling quite so chummy with Barak these days

settlements, remains illegal under international law), but for an “illegal outpost” doubles the insult.

The 300 units are planned for the outpost of Givat Habrecha, near the settlement of Talmon. Talmon itself was set up only in 1994, so it’s pretty hard to see where this can possibly be covered under the guise of “natural growth,” which even the Netanyahu government has conceded would limit settlement building.

At this writing, there has been a conspicuous silence from the Obama administration on this matter. It’s possible it’s being dealt with behind the scenes, but even if so, the credibility of Obama’s anti-settlement stance is being tested here. He needs to do something, not merely object, publicly.

It’s true that these units are only in the planning stage, and ground-breaking for them is still a ways off. But for Obama, the time is now. This is a matter of pure defiance, a US ally simply thumbing its nose, with no good reason behind it, at American policy. By itself, this won’t destroy Obama’s credibility, but if Israel is seen to be free to ignore American wishes, it bodes very ill on many levels.

In a further blow to Israel’s ability to claim it is a “country of law,” the area planned for the units is adjacent to structures already built on privately owned Palestinian land, and, Bimkom suggests, the declaration of the area for the new construction as state lands is a bid to “whitewash” the construction that has already taken place there. And sadly, it is merely symptomatic of the widespread construction in the West Bank which has been done illegally, both by the state and by private individuals and companies which the “country of law” turns a blind eye to.