Opinion: the current US administration has turned decades of US policy on Israel and Palestine on its head

The change in US policy on the legal status of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land occupied by Israel since 1967 makes the likelihood of peace in the region even more remote. It also further undermines the prospect of establishing an independent state of Palestine, the so called two-state solution.  It does, however, offer a short term gift to interim Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and friend of US president Donald Trump, in his efforts to form a new Israeli government. In terms of domestic US politics, it also panders to the evangelical right, a group critical to Trump's support base and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's ambitions for a senate seat in Kentucky. 

While the US declaration may also facilitate the planned annexation of even more Palestinian land by Israel, especially large tracts in the Jordan valley, it does not make Israel more secure. This area is part of Area C under Israeli control and it has long been targeted for annexation. The over-arching policy of the Israeli Civil Administration in Palestine is that the greater part of Area C is to be designated for the expansion of settlements and the expulsion of Palestinians who are deemed to be in the way.

From RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland, RTÉ Washington correspondent Brian O'Donovan reports on the Trump administration's latest policy shift on Israel

In the long run, this and other changes in US policy inadvertently renders the creation of a single state, incorporating Israel and Palestine, as the only long term solution to the conflict. The problem with the so called one-state solution is that unless it recognises the equal rights of Palestinians in accordance with Israel’s 1948 Declaration of Independence, which promised equality for all Israel’s inhabitants regardless of their religion, race or gender, this will in effect create an apartheid system.

To avoid such a scenario, it would be necessary to repeal measures such as the 2018 controversial nation state law which states that Israel is the national home of the Jewish people. It also contained a provision to the effect that the state views the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation.

From RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland, Israeli Ambassador to Ireland, Ze'ev Boker, discusses the decision by the Knesset to pass the Nation State law

So far Trump has done nothing to bring about a peaceful resolution of the conflict and the US has long lost its claim to honest broker status in the context of Middle East politics. Despite lofty claims to the peace deal of the century, the current US administration has made matters worse and turned decades of US policy on its head. In essence, the Trump administration has sought to resolve core issues at the heart of the conflict by making unilateral declarations of what it deems to be the solution. Recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and denying the legitimacy of Palestinian refugees, while undermining the UN agency charged with their protection and welfare, have made the US and Israel increasingly isolated. 

Jimmy Carter was the first US president to declare the settlements illegal, following the conclusion of the peace agreement between Israel and Egypt. Later, Ronald Reagan changed this policy decision and stated that the settlements were not illegal. Nonetheless, the Reagan administration recognised the settlements as major obstacles to peace and, like Barack Obama's administration decades later, did not veto a UN Security Resolution criticising Israeli settlement policy.

All the current major Democratic Party contenders for president have openly challenged Trump’s declaration indicating that US policy may change again in the future. In the meantime, the relentless growth in the Israeli population in settlements on Palestinian land continues and the sense of hopelessness among Palestinians increases. 

A US declaration does not change international law: settlements continue to be illegal and a war crime under international humanitarian law

Israeli settlement policy has led to numerous practices being adopted that are detrimental to the Palestinian population and inherently discriminatory in nature. These include house demolitions, land seizures, restrictions on freedom of movement, access to water, electricity, medical services and education. Violence by settlers against local Palestinians is also a major problem. 

US policy goes against a number of UN resolutions and reports, as well as the opinion of the International Court of Justice, the EU and a range of other international organisations. No state is, or should be allowed to be, above the law. A US declaration does not change international law: settlements continue to be illegal and a war crime under international humanitarian law. 

They are also most likely to be amongst the crimes investigated by the International Criminal Court, a matter of grave concern to Israel. Adherence to the principles of international humanitarian law and human rights law must form the foundation of all political efforts at achieving a just and sustainable resolution of the conflict.


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ