US now considers Israeli settlements consistent with international law – Pompeo

Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim in the West Bank Reuters / Ronen Zvulun Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim in the West Bank
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has announced a U-turn in policy toward Israeli settlements in the West Bank, declaring Washington no longer sees them as inconsistent with international law.

Pompeo said the US will no longer adhere to the 1978 State Department legal opinion on the settlements, and insisted that it would not lead to the US' isolation from the rest of the global community on the issue. 

The US' top diplomat said the Trump administration will leave the status of the West Bank to Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate.

Pompeo said the decision came as a result of a “legal review” and was not intended to send any message, though the move is likely to anger the Palestinian side and human rights groups who have condemned the settlements and say they undermine peace efforts.

The Trump administration has been a staunch ally of Netanyahu's government and consistently taken Israel's side on major issues, calling into question Washington's ability to be a neutral arbiter in any peace process. In 2017, Trump recognized the contested Jerusalem as Israel's capital and moved the US embassy there from Tel Aviv. Last year, Trump recognized Israel's 1981 seizure of Syria's Golan Heights as legitimate.

Trump's critics have suggested he may be making his overtly pro-Israel moves in an effort to help Netanyahu hold on to power after inconclusive elections in September. The PM is clinging to power with Israeli politics in deadlock after both he and centrist rival Benny Gantz failed to cobble together a coalition government.

Reacting to Pompeo's announcement, Jordan's foreign minister Ayman Safadi warned that the policy switch would have "dangerous consequences" for the peace process. In a tweet, Safadi said the Israeli settlements were "a blatant violation"of international law and would kill a two-state solution. "Jordan’s position in condemning [the settlements] is unwavering,"he wrote.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also condemned the move, saying through a spokesman that Pompeo's statement "totally contradicts" international law and called on other nations to "declare their opposition."

The US embassy in Jerusalem issued a travel warning to Americans shortly after Pompeo's comments, warning those traveling through Jerusalem, the West Bank, or Gaza to maintain "a high level of vigilance" and to take "appropriate steps to increase their security awareness in light of the current environment."

The statement warned that individuals or groups opposed to the policy change may target US government facilities and US citizens.