Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Monday that the Trump administration is reversing its stance on Israeli settlements in the West Bank, a move that is bound to create another obstacle to a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians.
"The establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not, per se, inconsistent with international law," Pompeo said at the State Department. Pompeo said that the U.S. was not weighing in on the legality of any individual settlement, leaving that to Israeli courts. He also said that this should not be read as a statement on the final status of the West Bank, which is "for the Israelis and the Palestinians to negotiate."
Pompeo put the announcement — a reversal of the Obama administration — into context of the last 40 years of U.S. administration views of the settlements.
"U.S. public statements on settlement activities in the West Bank have been inconsistent over decades," Pompeo said. "In 1978, the Carter administration categorically concluded that Israel's establishment of civilian settlements was inconsistent with international law. However, in 1981, the administration under President Reagan disagreed with that conclusion and stated he didn't believe that the settlements were inherently illegal."
He went on to say that subsequent administrations recognized that "unrestrained settlement activity could be an obstacle to peace." However, they realized that "dwelling on legal positions" didn't advance peace, Pompeo said, adding that Secretary of State John Kerry had changed this formulation by affirming, as Carter did, the "supposed illegality of settlements."
The settlements pose a problem for Palestinians, who have long envisioned the land in the West Bank to be part of a future Palestinian state.