In any conflict there is value in making sure that both sides recognize the truth. It helps them reach a viable and lasting solution.
It is through this prism that it is worth looking at Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s announcement on Monday that the US no longer views Israeli settlements in the West Bank as illegal, aligning Washington with Jerusalem’s stance that has long been dismissed by the international community.
Does the decision increase the chances for peace? Yes and no. On the one hand, the Palestinians will view this announcement as just another example – after the moving of the US Embassy to Jerusalem, recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights – of US bias, and as proof that Donald Trump is not capable of serving as an honest broker.
On the other hand, Israel finally has a country – and not just any country – that stands behind its claim that settlements are not inherently illegal but rather are part of a disputed land whose fate can only be determined through negotiations and a peace deal.
It is true that this new policy won’t immediately change anything, just like the recognition of Jerusalem didn’t. The European Union, as seen last week, still believes that east Jerusalem is occupied land, and that products coming from over the Green Line need to be labeled.
Nevertheless, there is importance in stating the truth even if it does not have a direct tangible outcome. Israeli Jews didn’t need America to tell them that Jerusalem was their capital city; they knew that. Nevertheless, when a country like the US makes such an announcement – whether about Jerusalem or the settlements – it changes the narrative, and narratives are important when it comes to conflicts as emotionally charged as this one.
The planned Pompeo announcement followed a year-long review that was carried out by the State Department’s legal office. It wasn’t done by politicians or political appointees but rather by professional lawyers who spent the year reviewing available material while studying the different sides to the issue.
How does the new policy work with the Trump administration’s peace plan, otherwise known as the “Deal of the Century?”
That remains to be seen. For now, the plan is still waiting for an Israeli government to be established before it is rolled out, and anyhow, officials in Jerusalem and Ramallah are not expecting the plan to change much – the Palestinians are still officially boycotting the White House, and the president is pretty busy with the impeachment hearings and his upcoming reelection bid.
For the Palestinians, this will easily serve as just another excuse why to write it off.
Then there is the timing. On the surface, it doesn’t seem like Monday’s announcement has anything to do with the ongoing political crisis in Israel. A review was commissioned over a year ago, way before anyone in Washington or Jerusalem could have known that Israel would be facing governmental and electoral paralysis. Its findings were presented recently to Pompeo, and the secretary of state decided to adopt and announce them.
On the other hand, everything is about appearances, and there is little doubt that Benjamin Netanyahu will use Monday’s policy change to play up his diplomatic credentials and stress to Israelis why he is still needed as prime minister.
But that is not the story. America is speaking the truth. Today, let’s appreciate that.