Yesterday, the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, announced a reversal in decades of US policy towards Israel's illegal settlements in the West Bank, stating that: "the establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not, per se, inconsistent with international law." Within hours of Pompeo's statement, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini released a statement asserting that the EU position on the illegality of Israeli settlements in the 1967 territories remained "clear and unchanged" affirming that "all settlement activity is illegal under international law". A spokesperson for the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, said that the decision "contradicts totally with international law" and Palestinian Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat called it "a threat to global stability, security and peace". Similarly, human rights organisations, including Human Rights Watch and BT'selem, have condemned the move.
Many pundits are describing this as yet another "gift" to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from the Trump Administration. In 2017, Trump recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and announced that he will be moving the US embassy there. A year later, he announced that the US was cutting its contributions to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the UN agency for Palestinian refugees. In March this year, just before the first Israeli elections, Trump recognised Israel's 1981 annexation of the occupied Golan Heights.
The timing of his latest "gift" is also perfect for Netanyahu, as he is facing not only the possibility of a third parliamentary poll in less than a year but also serious corruption charges. While Washington's gifts undoubtedly serve to bolster him and his party - Likud-, it would be a mistake to think that this aggressive expansionism would die with him should he fail to make it into the next government.
Benny Gantz, the leader of the opposition party Kahol Lavan, also welcomed the US move, tweeting that he applauded the US's "firm stance with Israel". Lest we forget that before Israel's second parliamentary poll in September, when Netanyahu announced his plan to annex the Jordan Valley, Gantz rushed to claim that it had been plagiarised from him.