Top News from Israel & Palestine: November 19, 2019

What We’re Reading

U.S. Policy

US angers Palestinians with reversal on Israeli settlements,

“The change reflects the administration’s embrace of a hard-line Israeli view at the expense of the Palestinian quest for statehood. Similar actions have included President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the movement of the U.S. Embassy to that city and the closure of the Palestinian diplomatic office in Washington. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the U.S. is repudiating the 1978 State Department legal opinion that held that civilian settlements in the occupied territories are ‘inconsistent with international law.’ Israeli leaders welcomed the decision while Palestinians and other nations warned that it undercut any chance of a broader peace deal. Pompeo told reporters at the State Department that the Trump administration believes any legal questions about settlements should be resolved by Israeli courts and that declaring them a violation of international law distracts from larger efforts to negotiate a peace deal. ‘Calling the establishment of civilian settlements inconsistent with international law has not advanced the cause of peace,’ Pompeo said. ‘The hard truth is that there will never be a judicial resolution to the conflict, and arguments about who is right and who is wrong as a matter of international law will not bring peace.’ Pompeo said that the U.S. would not take a position on the legality of specific settlements, that the new policy would not extend beyond the West Bank and that it would not create a precedent for other territorial disputes. He also said the decision did not mean the administration was prejudging the status of the West Bank in any eventual Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.”

In Shift, U.S. Says Israeli Settlements in West Bank Do Not Violate International Law,

“The Trump administration declared on Monday that the United States does not consider Israeli settlements in the West Bank a violation of international law, reversing four decades of American policy and removing what has been an important barrier to annexation of Palestinian territory. ..The United States has in the past described the settlements as illegitimate, and Palestinians have demanded the land for a future state, a goal that has been backed by the United Nations, European governments and American allies across the Middle East. But President Trump has been persistent in changing United States policy on Israel and the Palestinian territories — moves aimed at bolstering political support for Mr. Netanyahu, who has failed to form a government after two rounds of elections with razor-thin outcomes. Monday’s decision reversed a 1978 legal opinion by the State Department concluding that the settlements were inconsistent with international law. Mr. Pompeo said that ruling ‘hasn’t advanced the cause of peace’.”

West Bank settlements not illegal, Pompeo announces in historic shift,

“In a historic reversal of US policy, the Trump administration announced on Monday that it does not view Israeli settlements in the West Bank as illegal. The policy change was announced by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Washington. ‘After carefully studying all sides of the legal debate, this administration agrees with president Reagan,’ Pompeo said in reference to Ronald Reagan’s position that settlements were not inherently illegal. ‘The establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not per se inconsistent with international law’.”

US embassy in Jerusalem warns of Palestinian unrest over settlements decision,

“’The US embassy advises US citizens in or considering travel to or through Jerusalem, the West Bank, or Gaza to maintain a high level of vigilance and take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness in light of the current environment,’ the US embassy said in the warning. ‘Individuals and groups opposed to the Secretary of State’s recent announcement may target US government facilities, US private interests, and US citizens.’ The embassy said potential targets included ‘public events, such as demonstrations, holiday events, and celebratory gatherings; hotels, clubs, and restaurants popular with US citizens; places of worship; schools; shopping malls and markets; tourism infrastructure; public transportation and airports’.”

Democrats Warn Against Trump's 'Destructive' Pro-settlements Move,

“While Republican lawmakers and right-wing Jewish groups praised Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s announcement that settlements don’t violate international law, prominent Democratic lawmakers as well as left-wing Jewish organizations harshly criticized it, stressing Washington’s deep division on the matter.”

Trump advisor calls Pompeo’s West Bank decision an answered prayer,

“Mike Evans, founder of The Jerusalem Prayer Team and a member of Trump’s informal group of evangelical Christian advisers, praised the move. In an interview with Religion News Service, Evans said Pompeo called him shortly after the press conference while en route to meet President Trump. ‘I told (Pompeo) it was a tremendous answer to prayer from evangelicals,’ he said, asking the secretary of state to express gratitude to the president. Evans said in a separate statement that the announcement was on par with the administration’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. He told RNS it reminded him of a passage from the Biblical book of Genesis in which God refers to Israel by saying, ‘I will bless those who bless you, but I will curse those who curse you. In our opinion, it’s recognizing the Bible as legal,’ said Evans, who also plans to expand his Friends of Zion Museum in Jerusalem to include an exhibition dedicated to Trump. ‘They’re saying it’s true’.”

After Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, the Latest Trump Statement Isn't Going to Make Settlements Legal,

“And just like the announcement concerning Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem and the Golan Heights – and even more so because of the ramifications for the Palestinians, mainly in Area C – this latest declaration is also largely a symbolic and emotional, at least for now. The situation on the ground will not change overnight, nor will the international law shift just because the U.S. decided it no longer recognizes it. On the governmental level, some actual changes beyond the State Department’s festive declarations – budgeting, for example – will require the Congress’ approval…American sources say that the most significant pressure on the matter came from Trump’s evangelical supporters, who wanted to use the administration’s opposition to a decision by the top European court to enforce labeling West Bank goods in order to advance their years-old policy advocating for the recognition of Israeli settlements as legal. This policy was also pushed by them within the Republican Party.”

US says Israeli settlements not necessarily illegal,

“But some veteran observers of the Middle East peace process suggested the timing of the announcement could be linked to the ruling last week by a European court on the labeling of goods from Israeli settlements. The Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice ruled that products from territory occupied by Israel must be labeled as such. ‘I don’t think it is a coincidence that this is happening days after the European Court of Justice ruling on labeling,’ Lara Friedman, president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, told Al-Monitor from Tel Aviv today. ‘That is clear.’ ‘The substantive impact will depend on what flesh we put on the bones” of the decision, Friedman continued. ‘The President, the State Department can tell Customs and Border to change our policy on labeling [of goods produced from the settlements’.”

Why Pompeo’s settlement announcement is bad news,

Amb. Daniel Kurtzer writes, “It is hard to understand why the administration chose to make this determination now, unless for political reasons to help Benjamin Netanyahu remain prime minister — something Pompeo has denied. And it is equally hard to see how this decision helps the administration advance its stated interest in promoting a “deal of the century.” In fact, this policy decision effectively tells Palestinians and Israelis there is no deal to be had while Trump remains in office.”

Israeli Politics

PM visits West Bank, says new US settlement policy will ‘stand for generations’,

“’I confess I’m very moved,’ Netanyahu told settler leaders and reporters at the Kfar Etzion settlement. ‘We’re here, in Gush Etzion, a place we were expelled from during the War of Independence, and here we are on a historic day with another tremendous achievement for the State of the Israel that we worked quite a bit on.’ In a closed-door meeting that followed, Netanyahu’s tone stiffened, and he chided the nearly dozen mayors from municipalities throughout the West Bank in attendance for not speaking out enough against the ‘threat’ of a Joint List-backed minority government that the premier claimed Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz is currently seeking.”

Settler leaders call for West Bank annexation after US shifts stance,

“Oded Revivi, the mayor of the large settlement of Efrat and the so-called foreign minister of the Yesha settlement council umbrella group, lauded the move and called on the Israeli government to use the opportunity to annex territory…He noted that the shift had been pushed by US Ambassador David Friedman, who is known for his close ties to the settlement movement…Responding to the announcement, Netanyahu feted Pompeo Monday night, but did not mention the annexation pledge. ‘The United States adopted an important policy that rights a historical wrong when the Trump administration clearly rejected the false claim that Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria are inherently illegal under international law,’ he said.”

Occupation, Annexation, & Human Rights

I'm a Neighbor of the Gaza Family Israel Killed Accidentally. I Don't Know How to Tell My Kids They'll Never Be Safe,

“That is the terrible feeling that consumes me with every escalation, the helplessness at being unable to protect what’s most precious to you. You go from room to room, trying to gain a little more time of laughter and mischief with the children, but every boom reminds you that you live in Gaza. Your mind replays all the memories, hopes and challenges, goes through what you tried to do and what you might be planning, and remembers that while death is not painful to the dead, it scathes the living.”

A Question of UN Credibility: Releasing the Settlements Database,

“The European Union’s highest court recently ruled that EU countries are required to identify products made in Israeli settlements on their labels. However, another international body – the UN – continues to avoid releasing its database of companies engaged in activities with Israel’s settlements. Al-Shabaka Policy Analyst Nada Awad and Guest Contributor Maha Abdallah explain why and recommend ways to pressure the UN to fulfill its mandate.”

Netanyahu’s 'divide and rule' policy against Palestinians,

“The split between the West Bank and Gaza Strip and between Hamas and Fatah and Islamic Jihad serve Netanyahu’s status quo policy in the West Bank as well as his attempts to engineer a ‘security arrangement’ with Gaza. Every rocket that lands in the southern border town of Sderot is turned by the propagandists of the political right into a missile against the Oslo peace accord with the Palestinians and alleged proof that ceding territories to the Palestinians begets terrorism. But is the “divide and rule” policy an appropriate recipe for dealing with a complex conflict such as the Israeli-Palestinian one?”