Nov. 25, 2019
- In his statement about the legality of Israel’s West Bank settlements, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made four main points.
- First, the settlements are not “inherently illegal.”
- Second, the West Bank’s fate should be determined through negotiations.
- Third, international law “does not compel a particular outcome” in favor of Israel or the Palestinians.
- Fourth, the issue is political in nature, not legal, and attacking the settlements’ legality “hasn’t advanced the cause of peace.”
- For 35 years U.S. administrations refrained from repeating President Carter’s criticism of Israeli settlements as illegal, Pompeo recounted, but President Obama broke with this policy by taking the Carter position at the UN. President Reagan, who followed Carter, had rejected Carter’s view.
- President Carter had a strained relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and condemnation of Israeli settlements as illegal was supported by a five-page letter dated April 21, 1978, by State Department legal adviser Herbert Hansell.
- That letter ignored entirely the rights of Jews under the 1922 Palestine Mandate, which called for “close settlement by Jews on the land.” From ancient times until 1949, Jews could lawfully live in the West Bank. Hansell didn’t explain when that right was terminated.
- As a Middle East specialist on the National Security Council staff, I was asked for a short note on the subject for President Reagan. I said, “The issue is properly a political question, not a legal question.” The sovereignty issue “is open and will not be closed until the actual parties to the conflict formally consent to a peace agreement.” In the meantime, “there is no law that bars Jews from settling on the West Bank” and no one should be excluded from living there “simply on account of his nationality or religion.”
- What fuels the conflict is the notion that Israel is a vulnerable, alien presence that lacks roots, legitimacy, and moral confidence. Israel’s enemies know that asserting that the Jews have no right to live in the West Bank – an important part of the Jewish homeland – calls into question the Jews’ right to have created Israel in the first place.
The writer, a senior fellow at Hudson Institute, served as U.S. Undersecretary of Defense for Policy.