The announcement by Mike Pompeo that the US no longer considers Israeli settlements to be illegal under international law confirms that the US administration is a barrier to peace. But however much Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu would like to remake the world to fit with their reality, facts remain facts, and the law remains the law. The West Bank and East Jerusalem are occupied territory under international law, and the transfer of population by an occupying state into an occupied territory is a grave breach of article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention and constitutes a war crime.
Israel and the US seek the abandonment of the rule of law in favour of the law of the jungle. Pompeo has stated that “arguments about who is right or wrong as a matter of international law will not bring peace”. This is an argument for peace achieved via the imposition of force and a rejection of the notion central to a rules-based order that all are equal under the law.
The US statement follows the logic of the so called “Deal of the Century”, which Israel and the US have been trying to sell to the world. Underpinning this framework is a deeply racist narrative: that the Palestinians are not a people with collective rights but rather individuals with needs the nature of which are better understood and determined by the US and Israel than by the Palestinians themselves. The Palestinians must give up the claim to a capital in Jerusalem, give up the right to return to the homes from which they and their families were expelled or forced to flee in 1948, give up the right to self-determination.
The willingness of the US and Israel to run roughshod over the law and principles of justice and rights is to be condemned, but the pathway to this statement has been paved by all of those, including the EU and the UK Government, who for decades have paid lip service to support for international law and human rights, whilst failing to fulfil their obligations under that law to hold Israel to account. It is notable that in the week that the European Court of Justice has reaffirmed the responsibilities of states to recognise the illegality of Israeli settlements, it has been suggested that the Conservative government , if re-elected, intends to take action to make it harder in the UK for public bodies to fulfil their responsibilities to take action against companies complicit in Israel’s violation of international law.
PSC reaffirms its call for all political parties standing in the current general election to make clear not only their rejection of the US statement but their recognition of the UK’s responsibilities to act to implement international law. This means as a start a ban on the import of settlement goods and, in line with arms licensing regulations, an end to the arms trade with Israel.
If there is any positive to be gained form this latest US move, it is that it cements the impossibility of maintaining the fiction that there is a viable peace process which would be disrupted by taking actions to hold Israel to account via meaningful sanctions. The Israeli government has welcomed the US move, and announced its intention to further illegally colonise and annex Palestinian land, thus confirming that impunity allows it to operate under the law of the jungle. This demands action not just from governments but from civil society.
The Palestinian people have called for boycott of and divestment from Israeli institutions and international companies complicit in Israel’s violation of international law and human rights, and for sanctions on Israel until it operates within, not above international law. This is a call which affirms the collective rights of the Palestinian people rooted in international law and principles of rights and equality. Israel seeks to establish a one state reality where the Jewish people hold superior rights – whether in relation to Palestinian citizens of the state who are treated as second class, Palestinians living under occupation who are denied basic rights of self-determination, or Palestinian refugees denied the right of return. This one state meets the legal definition of an apartheid state, and history tells us that the way to defeat an apartheid regime is to isolate it financially, politically, diplomatically and culturally. As the great Palestinian advocate for justice Diana Buttu said in response to Pompeo’s announcement: “Palestine is still occupied… settlements are still illegal…statements do not change that reality, but BDS can”.