US policy shift on settlement leaves Obama’s legacy in the past 

Source: US policy shift on settlement leaves Obama’s legacy in the past –

Washington’s move is a constructive step towards Israel ahead of the Trump administration’s introduction of the long-awaited “deal of the century.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s announcement  Monday that Israel’s settlement enterprise in Judea and Samaria is “not inconsistent” with international law, which stepped away from decades of White House policy, was also another step in the Trump administration’s efforts to leave the legacy of President Barack Obama in the past.

The American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and President Trump’s decision to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights are also staples on this new policy, which turned away from the thinking and action patterns of former presidents the likes of Obama and Jimmy Carter.

In this respect, a line can be drawn between the governments of Republican presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush and the current president. This also stands in contrast to the policy pursued by Democratic presidents Carter and Obama, who sought a completely different path.

Carter, for example, made it a point to foster a special affinity not with Israel but rather with the Palestinians, and he spent most of his term, especially during his first two years in office, trying to establish a “homeland for the Palestinian people” while recognizing the PLO as their legitimate representative.

No one disputes the fact that it was this approach that gave rise to Carter’s firm opposition Judea and Samaria settlement enterprise, which he believed could undermine the chances of realizing the dream of the Palestinian state.

Nearly four decades later, it was Obama who produced another resounding expression of this policy, when he refrained from exercising the US veto to strike down  UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which defined the settlements as “legally invalid.” This was the final tier of a long line of presidential statements that defined the settlements as “legitimate”.

This not only takes Obama right back to the Carter, but also ignored the basic American stance, formulated in the wake of the Six-Day War, which defined the settlements as a political issue that could impede the peace process in terms of political negotiation, but not as a legal issue expected to complicate the negotiations.

This uncompromising approach, based on a legal definition related to the status of the settlements, contradicted the position of Republican administrations. Those have had their reservations about the scope of settlement construction, but for the most part, they adopted a pragmatic approach on this issue. The latter created the occasional dispute between Jerusalem and Washington, but it never came close to jeopardizing the resilience and stability of the special relations between the two nations.

And so, not only did Reagan disapprove in 1981 of Carter’s approach to this issue. President George W. Bush went further and in a letter sent to then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on April 14, 2004, he acknowledged the “new demographic reality” created in the territories after 1967.

This reality, he implied, ruled out the possibility that Israel would be required, within the framework of the Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, to execute a full withdrawal to the 1967 lines.

Against this backdrop, Pompeo’s declaration can be seen not only as following in the footsteps of Reagan and Bush but more explicitly as an expression of the emphasis on the Trump administration placed on the historical dimension of the special US-Israel relationship.

It also puts a welcome end to the attempts by Carter and Obama to lend the issue of Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria a dimension pertaining to international law.

It also stands to reason that it is no coincidence that Pompeo’s statement came a few days after the European Union’s top court ordered the mandatory labeling of goods produced beyond the Green Line, as it seeks to be a staunch denial of any attempt to tackle this complex issue with legal instruments.

But above all, Washington’s move can be seen as a constructive step towards Israel, hoping that on the basis of this solid friendship and demonstration of support over core issues, the Trump administration will be able to launch its “deal of the century” and expect that its Israeli partner will pull its weight in promoting it – all pending the establishment of a new government in Israel.


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