Washington (AP) - The US government is making another U-turn in Middle East policy - it no longer sees any violation of international law in Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in Washington that the construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank "is not per se incompatible with international law." It did not advance the peace process in the Middle East to declare the settlements illegal. The move joins a series of unilateral pro-Israel decisions by US President Donald Trump.
Israel conquered the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 1967 during the Six-Day War. There live today more than 600,000 Israeli settlers in more than 200 settlements. The Palestinians see both areas as part of a future independent state.
The settlement policy of Israel is highly controversial. In December 2016, the UN Security Council called on Israel to stop all settlement in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including East Jerusalem. Settlements were designated in resolution 2334 as a violation of international law and a major obstacle to peace in the Middle East. The Americans also rejected the expansion of Israeli settlements in these areas so far.
Settlement construction continued, however. According to the peace organization Peace Now, Israel alone approved the construction of 2342 settler housing units in the occupied West Bank in October. Since the beginning of the year, the construction of a total of 8337 apartments in Israeli settlements had been approved - significantly more than in the previous year.
On Tuesday, the European Court of Justice pronounced a decision in connection with the Israeli settlement policy, which caused controversy. The ECJ ruled that exported goods from Israeli settlements in the West Bank and other 1967 occupied territories in the EU must be specially marked and can not be designated as a product of Israel. Israel criticized the decision as discriminatory. The US also expressed concern and complained that the purpose was only to promote boycotts against Israel.
With the legal turnaround of the Americans, Israel now receives powerful support for its own settlement policy. The Trump administration has already taken a number of unilateral pro-Israeli decisions in recent years, recognizing Israel's claim to the occupied Golan Heights as well as Jerusalem as Israel's capital. She also moved the US Embassy there. The Palestinians claim the eastern part of the city as the capital of their own desired state. The Palestinians accuse the US government of representing the interests of Israel in particular. As a result, they are now rejecting the United States as a mediator in the Middle East conflict.
Trump's government consistently sets itself apart from the course of international partners with its Middle East policy. The decision is now in Israel's particularly turbulent times for Israel and plays into the hands of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is under heavy pressure. Israel is in a political crisis: After Netanyahu failed to form a new government following the September general election, this Wednesday the term for forming a government for Benny Gantz of the Middle Alliance blue-white is expiring. Should Gantz also fail, threatens the third choice within a year.