THE Donald Trump administration’s declaration that it no longer considers Israeli settlements in the West Bank illegal marks another step away from the principles of international law.
The illegality of the settlements by Israeli citizens on Palestinian land is quite clear from Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention: “The occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”
The 600,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem have already ghettoised much of Palestine, fragmenting its territory — over which the Israeli occupier retains complete military control — criss-crossing it with roads barred to Palestinian users, stealing much of the most fertile land and depriving the Palestinian population of most of the available water.
The Israeli towns that have been planted across Palestinian territory are a serious barrier to the independent Palestine to which almost all countries, including the US and Israel, remain technically committed — though Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has shown up how hollow this commitment is by repeatedly stating explicitly that there will never be a Palestinian state on his watch.
Pro forma international condemnation has not halted the settlement programme nor prompted any Israeli government to consider meeting its obligations towards Palestine under the Oslo Accords.
So it would be easy enough to say that Trump is merely making explicit Washington’s tacit connivance at this illegal colonisation project over many decades.
The US has regularly used its veto to block UN resolutions condemning the settlements even while officially viewing them as illegal.
The US is itself a serial violator of international law. Its invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, in both of which Britain took part, constituted “the supreme international crime,” starting a war of aggression.
Its “war on terror” involved a programme of extraordinary rendition (in which British authorities were also complicit) in which citizens of other countries were kidnapped and taken for interrogation, often involving torture, at various secret prisons in third countries.
For one country to abduct the citizens of another is considered a crime against humanity under international law.
Many of those citizens ended up languishing for years without trial in the US concentration camp at Guantanamo Bay, itself Cuban territory forcibly occupied without Cuban consent, a breach of international law.
It’s against international law to apply sanctions with the aim of changing the government in the targeted country, so the sanctions the US slaps on Venezuela and its blockade of Cuba are flagrant breaches of international law.
Its extraterritorial application of the blockade — levying massive fines on British and European companies that trade with Cuba — is an even more egregious violation.
So why should anyone care what Washington’s opinion on the illegality or otherwise of Israel’s settlements is?
The fact is that Trump giving Israel explicit licence to trample on the rights of the Palestinians has emboldened Israel’s far-right government.
Like the decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, it encourages ever more reckless and aggressive ethnic cleansing of Palestinians by the Israeli authorities and assures them that racist legislation such as the Nation State Law, reducing Israeli Arabs to second-class citizens, will not affect the enormous economic and military sponsorship they receive from the US.
Trump’s embrace of global lawlessness, from the bloody coup in Bolivia through support for the Saudi assault on Yemen to endorsement of Narendra Modi ripping up the Indian constitution to deprive Kashmiris of their rights (“border security is vital to India”) is feeding instability, conflict and terror across the world.
Relying on Israeli allies to rein in its expansionist government has never worked. A US thumbs-up to illegal settlements makes that clearer than ever.
A mass movement in solidarity with Palestine, building and strengthening the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign so that Israel faces economic blowback for its ethnic cleansing programme, must be our answer.
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