US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo completely stands by the newly announced White House legal interpretation regarding Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria.
Speaking to the Israel Hayom newspaper in an interview which will be published in full on Friday, Pompeo said the announcement was part of the administration’s efforts to advance peace in the region, and did not prejudice the actual status of the territory in question.
“We think the decision that was made that permits the possibility of legal settlements, that they are not illegal per se, is both the correct one and the one that is in the best interest of the security situation in Israel as well as the situation between Israel and the Palestinian people,” said the Secretary of State.
He reiterated his view that it was wrong to consider Israeli settlements as having no legal justification under international law just because they were settlements, although specific settlements can be illegal according to the merits of the given case.
He did not, however, comment on whether the move could pave the way for Israeli annexations of some areas of Judea and Samaria.
“This was really a legal analysis change more than anything else. So as you well know, there have been portions of the contested areas that Israel has settled that Israeli courts have ruled were legal, and some that they have ruled not lawful. What is inconsistent is those who believe that international law requires that every settlement is illegal just by the nature of it being a settlement. Our statement is limited in the sense that it is not illegal per se, that there are other mechanisms to resolve it, including most importantly the political resolution that ultimately needs to be achieved,” said Pompeo.
The decision, he continued, was announced after a long and meticulous process at the State Department, and it is primarily meant as a means of making the long-term peace process more viable and less legalistic.
“The outcome is a good one from a foreign policy perspective because we think this will create space for a political resolution for the challenges that have vexed the region for so long, we think there is not going to be some court ruling, some international court decision, some legal analysis to get this result, but rather a political resolution of the situation,” said Pompeo.
Asked whether the change could lead to various diplomatic developments, he expressed hope that the conditions would soon be ripe for the unveiling of the administration’s peace plan.
“With respect to the work that has been done here in the United States, we are hoping that before too long we will present our peace vision to the world … And we hope they [the Israelis and Palestinians] will see it, we think this vision provides a roadmap forward for an effective conversation to ultimately get to what is in everyone’s best interests, and that is the peaceful resolution of this long conflict,” the Secretary of State told Israel Hayom.
Pompeo’s announcement was welcomed in Israel but caused an uproar in the Arab world.
Nabil Abu Rudeineh, the official spokesman for Palestinian Authority (PA) chairman Mahmoud Abbas, said Pompeo’s declaration “is null and void, condemned and totally contradicts with international law, resolutions of the international legitimacy that reject settlements, and Security Council resolutions, especially resolution 2334.”
Earlier this week, Arab League foreign ministers denounced the announcement, calling it “unfairly biased and unacceptable.”