Nov 19, 2019

Trump's settlements announcement underscores partisan divide on Israel

Netanyahu in Congress in 2018. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s announcement today on Israeli settlements was a major shift in U.S. policy and gives the settlements project diplomatic backing, but otherwise has few practical implications.

Why it matters: What the decision will do is deepen the divide between Democrats and Republicans on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The shift on the legal status of the settlements will continue to erode bipartisan support for Israel — especially with the U.S. entering an election year.

The Pro-Israel lobby AIPAC issued a statement that supported the announcement only in part.

  • AIPAC is concerned about the erosion of support for Israel among Democrats and has calibrated its public positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a way that Democrats can still identify with — for example supporting a two-state solution.

Republicans like Sen. Lindsey Graham welcomed Pompeo’s statement.

  • He called it “a repudiation of President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry’s ill-informed efforts to target Israeli presence in the West Bank."
  • Graham added: “While I strongly support a two-state solution, I believe the Trump Administration’s announcement today will ultimately advance the cause of peace over time."

Top Democrats condemned the move. Sen Bernie Sanders said "international law and multiple United Nations resolutions" make clear that the settlements are "illegal."

  • "Once again, Mr. Trump is isolating the United States and undermining diplomacy by pandering to his extremist base," Sanders said.
  • Pete Buttigieg called the move "a significant step backward in our efforts to achieve a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict" and "the latest in a pattern of destructive decisions that harm our national interests."

The global picture: As with the embassy move, the U.S. will find itself isolated internationally over tonight's announcement. It's hard to see any other country endorsing a U.S. policy that goes against UN Security Council resolutions and most readings of international law.

  • It could lead to new resolutions in the UN against the Israeli settlements that will pass with huge majorities and isolate the U.S.
  • The new policy will further escalate divisions between the U.S. and the Palestinians — if such a thing is even possible.
  • It will also create tensions with Jordan, which already criticized the decision, and make it harder for the Gulf states to implement normalization steps with Israel.
  • The U.S. announcement could also harden the EU's position on settlements, which has far more practical implications for Israel — mainly on trade.

Go deeper

Pompeo announces U.S. will no longer view Israeli settlements as illegal

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Photo: Janek SkarzynskiI/AFP via Getty Images

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Monday that the U.S. will no longer view Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Golan Heights and East Jerusalem as "inconsistent with international law."

Why it matters: This move is an important shift because it cancels a legal position held by the U.S. State Department since 1978, when the Carter administration determined that the settlements were a violation of international law.

Go deeperArrowUpdated Nov 18, 2019

Behind the scenes of Trump's shift on Israeli settlements

(L-R) Pompeo, Netanyahu and Friedman visit the Western Wall Tunnels in Jerusalem. Photo: Abir Sultan/AFP via Getty Images

U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman pushed for a change to the U.S. position on the legality of Israeli settlements early in the Trump administration, but former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson opposed the move.

Behind the scenes: Friedman, the key driver behind the major policy shift announced yesterday, raised the issue again when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo came in. This time he got a "green light," U.S. officials tell me.

Go deeperArrowNov 19, 2019 - World

U.S. gave Benny Gantz a heads-up on settlements announcement

Gantz. Photo: Menahem Kahana/AFP via Getty Images

Before Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's announcement yesterday on the legality of Israeli settlements, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman notified Benny Gantz, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's political rival, Israeli and U.S. officials tell me.

Why it matters: Gantz, the leader of the centrist Blue and White party, effectively tied with Netanyahu in Israel's election two months ago. Gantz was asked to form a government after Netanyahu failed to do so, but his mandate expires on Wednesday. There was speculation that the U.S. announcement was timed to help Netanyahu politically.

Go deeperArrowNov 19, 2019