On Tuesday, 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.
"While it is clear that the diplomatic foundations for continued Israeli expansionism and colonialism were laid a long time ago, under the Trump administration we have seen it accelerate."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.
These days, the Trump administration and Netanyahu easily provide many liberals with a point of blame for the failure to secure peace in Palestine. Yet, it would be another mistake to place responsibility solely in the hands of President Trump. In a Twitter thread, Director for the US Campaigns for Palestinian Rights Youssef Munayyer, explained how the "Obama administration paved the way for this moment" by vetoing a UNSC resolution declaring settlements illegal in 2011 and consistently avoiding using legal language when talking about the issue. The rationale was that international law does not advance peace or diplomatic efforts. The then US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, explained their veto position by stating that the "resolution would not have advanced the goal of getting the parties closer to negotiations and agreement. On the contrary, it would have hardened the positions of one or both sides." In other words, they considered international law as merely something to pick and choose from according to what suits their diplomatic needs.
While it is clear that the diplomatic foundations for continued Israeli expansionism and colonialism were laid a long time ago, under the Trump administration we have seen it accelerate. This latest US declaration will give the green light for an increase in the violent takeover of Palestinian land and displacement of Palestinian people.
The US policy reversal appears to have come as a shock to the international community. But as Palestinians, we saw this coming long ago and we said as much. It is constantly demanded of us that when we speak of our reality we do not only speak of doom and gloom. It is demanded of us that we speak with positivity and hope. Over 70 years in, and in light of Trump's latest "gift" to Israel, it is high time for the international community to stop lecturing us on how to communicate our own story and start listening to us.
It is time for the world to listen to the Palestinians who have been saying from day one that the State of Israel is an apartheid one, bent on keeping indigenous Palestinians permanently contained and oppressed. It is time to listen to the Palestinians who have been saying for decades that Israel has no intention of allowing the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. And it is time to listen to Palestinians when they say there is worse yet to come.