In surprise move, Trump warns Israel against settlements

The Israeli settlement of Tzofim seen behind amputated olive trees near Qalqilya, in the occupied West Bank, 15 January. Hundreds of olive trees on private Palestinian agricultural land were cut as part of an Israeli plan to build a bypass road for settlers in the area.

Keren Manor ActiveStills

The administration of US President Donald Trump surprised many observers on Thursday by issuing a public warning to Israel over its accelerating construction of settlements in the occupied West Bank.

“The American desire for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians has remained unchanged for 50 years,” the White House said in a statement from press secretary Sean Spicer. “While we don’t believe the existence of settlements is an impediment to peace, the construction of new settlements or the expansion of existing settlements beyond their current borders may not be helpful in achieving that goal.”

Spicer reiterated that Trump “hopes to achieve peace throughout the Middle East region.” He added that the “administration has not taken an official position on settlement activity and looks forward to continuing discussions, including with Prime Minister Netanyahu when he visits with President Trump later this month.”

Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to be in Washington on 15 February for what will now be a closely watched meeting for any signs of tension with Trump.

Aggressive land theft

Since Trump took office, Israel has announced plans for some 6,000 new settler housing units in the occupied West Bank.

This includes more than 550 in occupied East Jerusalem, and plans for an entirely new settlement deep in the West Bank.

The new settlement is intended as “compensation” to the settler movement after Israeli police this week implemented the court-ordered removal of settlers from Amona, a colonial outpost built on privately owned Palestinian land north of Ramallah.

But Israel had already promised to move the settlers within the West Bank, replacing one land theft with another.

“Shot across the bow”

Taken on its own, the White House statement is weak – although US policy has always been very tolerant of Israeli settlements in practice, rhetorically the previous administration was tougher, dubbing them “illegitimate,” and allowing the passage of December’s UN Security Council Resolution 2334 that confirmed they constitute a “flagrant violation under international law.”

The Trump statement may signal a return to the policy of the George W. Bush administration which approved settlement construction as long as it did not extend beyond existing settlement boundaries.

But context is everything here. As Chemi Shalev, a commentator in the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz observes, “the main importance of the statement is that it was put out at all.”

“Israelis had assumed that Trump would swallow just about anything their government would do, if only to be different from President Barack Obama,” Shalev adds. “The White House statement was a shot across the bow to Netanyahu that there’s a limit to everything.”

Netanyahu and his ministers have not concealed their glee at Trump’s rise to power, with some seeing it as an opportunity to annex most or all of the occupied West Bank outright.

And triumphant settler leaders found a warm welcome at Trump’s inauguration ceremony last month.

But the latest statement is another signal from the new US president that Israel will not get everything it wants – at least not right away.

Despite expectations that he would immediately fulfill a campaign promise to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Trump poured cold water on the idea.

“I don’t want to talk about it, yet,” the president told a Fox News interviewer days after taking office.

The warning about settlements came after Trump met with Jordan’s King Abdullah, on the sidelines of the so-called National Prayer Breakfast in Washington on Thursday morning.

According to The Jordan Times, the pair discussed “the importance of intensifying efforts to revive Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations” and other regional issues.

European complicity

While he has proven erratic and unpredictable, it would be foolish to expect Trump to do what none of his predecessors have done: make Israel pay a price for its settler-colonization of Palestinian land.

So in the absence of action from the US, might European leaders who have been sounding increasingly urgent warnings about the danger settlements pose to the so-called two-state solution step up?

So far there is no sign of that. On Thursday, Federica Mogherini, the EU’s top foreign policy official, put out a mild statement calling Israel’s latest settlement push “a very worrying trend, posing a direct challenge to the prospects of a viable two-state solution, which is increasingly difficult and risks becoming impossible.”

The EU noted the UN Security Council’s recent confirmation that the settlements are “illegal under international law,” but the pro forma statement gives Israel no cause to worry that it might face any real consequences for its brazen violations.

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The US is planning to send $38 billion to the Zionist entity over the next ten years.. However, for Americans who do not agree with this decision, there is actually something that they can do to stop it.

You see, since UNSC Resolution 2334 has now become the law of the land in the US by virtue of the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution (Article VI, Clause 2), any funding for the settlements in occupied Palestine is now in violation of US law and would be liable for litigation by aggrieved parties with locus standi in US courts, I would think.

And so, tax-paying US citizens really ought to band together and file a lawsuit in a US court to demand reimbursement for their taxpayer dollars that have been unlawfully spent on these settlements over the years and to put a stop to further unlawful actions by the US government such as the $38 billion "aid" to the Zionist entity that would in no small way help fund the growth of illegal settlements in occupied Palestine.

Furthermore, since the Zionist entity is doing something that is violating US law, then obviously the President of the United States cannot be aiding and abetting them by threatening to veto any motion to censure their unlawful activities at the UN Security Council and conscientious Americans need to bring this matter to the US judiciary to adjudicate on.

Unfortunately, it may well be necessary to obtain a court order to restrain this President from committing unlawful actions with regard to his seemingly unconditional support for the Zionist entity.

And so, the great irony in all of this is that the thing which is most required to lay the foundation for a just and lasting peace in the Middle East is not a "strong negotiator" sitting in the Oval Office, but rather a POTUS who truly lives up to his oath of office to preserve, protect and defend the US Constitution, particularly with regard to the matter of UNSC Resolution 2334 becoming the supreme law in the land.

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This legalese is correct as far as it goes. HOWEVER....
I seriously doubt that such an interpretation has
been in consistent use in practice. If it were...
every decision made by the President of the
US and the Congress (House, Senate Reconciliation)
as well as decision by the US Supreme Court could
be overridden the 14 (of 15) members of the
Security Council, Other nations must have their
own laws whether embedded in a written Constitution
(such as the US) or a different kind of legal animal
such as in the UK.

---Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA (non-lawyer)

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The US, as does every member state of the UN, does have an option if it does not want to be bound by the terms of the multilateral treaty as set forth in the UN Charter i.e. withdraw from being a member of the UN.. but I just cannot see the US being willing to lose it's seat on the Security Council if it chooses to leave and therefore, I doubt very much that it will seriously consider choosing this option.

UNSC Resolution 2334 is indeed a game changer with regard to the situation in the Middle East because unlike before, it has now allowed the hugely significant involvement of the judicial branch of the government in member states like the US in the decision-making process and it is therefore necessary and imperative for all involved to adopt a new approach to resolve the conflict in response to this new paradigm shift.

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It is a good point you raise towards the end of the article. Europe could have an enormous weight politically & economically, which it would only have to exercise, no need for any extra measures. As such it could without a shade of doubt get israel to move in the right direction, if not get it to do a deal with the Palestinians outright.

But European leaders lack the courage to take a firm stand, and impose stiff sanctions on israel as long as it flouts international law. Furthermore, Europe is divided, and the only country that could take a leadership role, Germany, is paralysed simply because israel would immediately accuse it of anti-semitism, that newly defined all-inclusive term that stops anyone from criticising it. The rest of Europe also wants to avoid that clichéd epithet.

So, in a sense, Europe's behaviour is even more shameful that the US's.

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I don't know much about being a billionaire but I assume they like to insulate themselves with a sizable battery of lawyers. Also, I don't know much about being a quasi-fascist, populist bully but it seems to me that neither Trump nor his friend Netanyahoo, want to see themselves, or a family member wind up in court, or have their agenda curtailed by legal proceedings and a press that's more than usually interested.
So is this a dumb question, or does this announcement have anything to do with the lawsuit announced a day earlier?

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