The remarkable decision by the State Department to declare that Israeli settlements on the disputed territories of the West Bank are not inherently illegal or illegitimate has already occasioned the bringing-out of the foreign policy smelling salts. The New York Times’s news story instantly declared that this might “doom any peace efforts with Palestinians,” as though there are any peace efforts with the Palestinians to doom right now or in the foreseeable future.
The decade-long withdrawal of the Palestinians from any realistic effort to forge a future for themselves in a land they might take as a state—following a decade of specious pseudo-negotiations torpedoed by Palestinians when and if they ever got anywhere near a resolution, after which Palestinians began a three-year terror war—is the only fact on the ground when it comes to “peace” and the West Bank. (Meanwhile, Israel is girding for a potential two-front war with Iranian proxies launched from Gaza and Lebanon.)
More important is the argument that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s decision transgresses settled international law. Balderdash and poppycock. Yes, it is the general understanding of the panjandra of the Smelling Salts Elite that Israel’s “settlements” stand in the way of a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—and Pompeo himself acknowledged that certain settlement activity can be understood as a means of making agreements more difficult.
But difficult does not mean illegal.
The idea that the West Bank is “occupied territory” itself is based on a problematic reading of international law. As Eugene Kontorovich has said, “the relevant international law instruments speak only of people being ‘transferred or deported’ by an occupying power.” Israel has not deported anyone from the West Bank, nor has it “transported” people there in the sense of forcing its colonization. Israelis have chosen to move to the West Bank. You can interpret that fact broadly to suggest they have “transferred” themselves, but that will result in a Talmudic argument that will never come to a resolution.
If the law were settled, the anti-Semites and Israel-haters at the United Nations would not have felt the need to seek the passage of the infamous Resolution 2334 in December 2016—which declares settlement activity a violation of international law. This is the resolution that Barack Obama allowed to pass without a veto from the United States, because he just wasn’t going to leave office without blowing a childish raspberry at Bibi Netanyahu. It was the existence of this resolution that led the Trump State Department to initiate a study of the legal basis of the Israelis’ settlements—a study whose conclusion is that while the settlements might indeed be an obstacle to peace, that does not make them, as a legal matter, illegitimate.
So don’t listen to the caterwauling and the wailing and the gnashing of teeth. What Secretary Pompeo and the Trump administration have done is speak truth. Odd, isn’t it, how the simple telling of the truth is so agonizing to people who claim to be realists?