Trump’s Latest Gift to Israeli Hard-Liners

Originally appeared at The American Conservative.

The Trump administration is about to hand Israel another gift in support of its illegal occupation:

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is expected to announce on Monday that the U.S. is softening its position on Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, the latest in a series of Trump administration moves that weaken Palestinian claims to statehood.

Pompeo plans to repudiate a 1978 State Department legal opinion that held that civilian settlements in the occupied territories are “inconsistent with international law.” The move will likely anger Palestinians and put the US at odds with other nations working to end the conflict.

The administration has repeatedly shown its contempt for international law, and this is just the latest example of that. This is part and parcel of the administration’s ongoing normalization of illegal Israeli occupation. We saw the same thing with the decision to recognize the annexation of the Golan Heights. This is likely a prelude to recognizing any further annexations of occupied territory in the West Bank. Treating illegal settlements as if they are acceptable is one more reversal of longstanding US policy, and it is an obvious sop to hard-line pro-settler Israelis and their allies here in the US:

The shift is a victory for Netanyahu, a longtime booster of the settlements, and had been strongly supported by US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and big Trump donor Sheldon Adelson. Friedman was a major fundraiser for the settlements before becoming ambassador.

Pompeo’s argument for rejecting the earlier State Department legal opinion is predictably fatuous:

“Calling the establishment of civilian settlements inconsistent with international law has not advanced the cause of peace,” Pompeo says in the draft. “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.”

The failure of US policy here has been to call settlements illegal but then do nothing about their ongoing expansion. If the US had taken its own position seriously decades ago, it is possible that there would be a better basis for a negotiated settlement. As things stand now, the US has allowed Israel to establish “facts on the ground” to their advantage and now the Trump administration is approving of the results. It does matter “who is right and who is wrong” with respect to international law. Pompeo plays the relativist here because he knows that the Israelis are the ones in the wrong on this issue, and he and the president want to give them a free pass. There is an overwhelming international consensus on the illegality of the settlements, and the Trump administration is determined to put the US on the wrong side:

The 1978 legal opinion on settlements is known as the Hansell Memorandum. It had been the basis for more than 40 years of carefully worded US opposition to settlement construction that had varied in its tone and strength depending on the president’s position.

The international community overwhelmingly considers the settlements illegal. This is based in part on the Fourth Geneva Convention, which bars an occupying power from transferring parts of its own civilian population to occupied territory.

Needless to say, reflexively backing Israel at all times has not advanced the cause of peace, and the continued expropriation of Palestinian land certainly doesn’t advance the cause of peace, but then they were never intended to.

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at The American Conservative, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and is a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Dallas. Follow him on Twitter. This article is reprinted from The American Conservative with permission.

23 thoughts on “Trump’s Latest Gift to Israeli Hard-Liners”

    1. Shouldn’t he be able to give Israel things like this while, in exchange, exiting Syria? I don’t understand why he gives Israel *everything.* They’re due only a pound of flesh, not every pound.

        1. Well, it’s infuriating, because it suggests he really didn’t know what he was doing when campaigning. He ran on exiting, ran against Israel essentially, then capitulates because regular Americans don’t pay attention. He ran against the powers that be, only to capitulate.

          The original idea was to give Israel whatever else it wanted in exchange for ending the wars. Instead he just gives everything away. What did we even win in the primary? I guess he’s better on trade.

          1. “He ran on exiting, ran against Israel essentially”

            For about a second and a half.

            Then someone explained to him that Sheldon Adelson’s money was on the line and he about faced, dropped to hands and knees, and went crawling to AIPAC declaring himself “the most pro-Israel” and “the most militaristic” presidential candidate in history.

            And all that occurred before, not after, he won the Republican nomination.

            Anyone who voted for him on Israel/Palestine issues because they thought he was promising to be anything other than Likud’s Faithful Servant in Washington simply wasn’t paying attention.

            He wasn’t even in office before he started paying off the Israeli government for its support. That meeting with Kislyak that Flynn got indicted for lying about? What the Russiagaters don’t mention is that Flynn was acting on behalf of Israel, asking Russia to wait until Trump was inaugurated before letting a resolution that Israel didn’t want passed to be considered (Obama was planning for the US to abstain, Trump would have had it vetoed).

        2. Just to state a hypothetical:

          If Trump were in charge, if he were skilled, he would announce all troops returning home, all foreign interventions ending, unless Congress declares war somewhere. Likudniks would scream. And then he’d move the embassy and give Israel other domestic things.

          Similarly, he could announce the end of all foreign aid, except to Israel; because the President simply cannot be entrusted with the power to influence foreign polities.

          And since the mass immigration we’re seeing in the US is partly the result of Guatemala’s coffee price collapse, he could raise tariffs on polities outside US neighbors and give Central America, Caribbean states, etc. free trade. Including Cuba. And if granting the Caribbean free trade, Puerto Rico might even see it as beneficial to declare sovereignty, which would remove Democratic voters. Puerto Rico hates the Jones Act; sovereignty would make it free of it.

          Regarding Venezuela, it shouldn’t matter who is in charge. Currently, Americans are banned from even investing there. So, the oil can’t be developed. If an investor wants to take the risk that his investment will be confiscated, he should be free to put money there, for whatever high return Venezuela gives in return for the risk (just like its debt).

          There’s so much he could do if he knew what he was doing. On day 1, he could have just ordered all troops home, done other things. Or maybe day 7. Once that was done, there’d be nothing the elite would fear from him. So, he could just negotiate from there. All of the “populist” issues should have been acted upon early on. Then he could negotiate other things afterwards. The damage would already be done.

          He’s done some positive things. It’s just so frustrating.

          1. He needn’t be a puppet. He’s chosen that path himself.

            On day 1, he could have ordered troops home. And when the reaction began, he could have mentioned relocating Israel’s embassy, recognizing Golan Heights. The Zionists wouldn’t have known what to do.

            He chose to be a puppet. It wasn’t necessary.

        1. While I absolutely agree with you in principle and wish it were so,
          the IRS gestapo is a state sanctioned auditor who will throw your
          a** in jail for not making your protection payments.

          1. I oppose all foreign aid to Israel and

            all other countries for that matter.
            I believe in the freedom of individuals

            to have privacy protected from govt intrusion and surveillance.

  1. Trump should cut to the chase for the country that is the apple of his eye.

    He should grant Israel the land from the Nile to the Euphrates. That might be the push Netanyahu needs to become prime minister again.

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