Pompeo is right, the settlements are not illegal

But statements alone can’t survive without acts on the ground.

A general view picture shows houses in the Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim, in the West Bank February 15, 2017 (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)
A general view picture shows houses in the Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim, in the West Bank February 15, 2017
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)
Some were surprised by the historic statement US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made regarding the recognition that the establishment of Israeli settlements in Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley does not contravene international law. They are certainly not legal experts who are familiar with international law. If they were, they would not have been surprised.
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, on the other hand, is a long-time jurist. Decades of law practice have brought him to see the legal truth: the settlements do not contravene international law. When he promoted this important move, along with President Donald Trump, that truth was in front of his eyes.
For many generations, we have believed that the Land of Israel has always belonged to the people of Israel, and we have been granted this right and duty. For many years, the Yesha Council (the umbrella organization representing communities in Judea and Samaria) has been leading the approach that even from a legal perspective, there is no impediment to Israeli construction in Judea and Samaria.
This is not a detached, independent opinion. It relies on well reasoned and well founded legal positions. Already in 1917, British foreign minister Arthur James Balfour declared that, “His Majesty’s government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people” – and later, the League of Nations declared that it recognized the Jewish people’s historical connection to the Land of Israel and justified the rebuilding of the national home here.
This statement has legal validity, which is still in place today. Prof. Eugene Rostow, who served as US undersecretary of state, and with him other senior jurists, unanimously stated that these League of Nations provisions remained in effect on the territories of western Israel as long as there was no other arrangement for sovereignty – and they also allow the establishment of Jewish settlements on public lands in all parts of the Land of Israel.
However, statements alone can’t survive without acts on the ground. David Ben-Gurion thought so, too, when he founded the State of Israel. This is how we operate today.
For years, the settlement leadership stood with the Israeli government and worked steadily and strongly to build settlements and cities in Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley. Leftist organizations and hostile governments have acted against us; terrorist organizations have attacked us and murdered our children. Despite all that, for 52 years, we have steadfastly and stubbornly succeeded in establishing more than 150 communities and 24 councils and municipalities in which about half a million Israelis live. The rate of growth of the Israeli population here is 4% per year, twice the average of the entire State of Israel. This is a continuation of the Zionist vision of the return of the people of Israel to its country and the return of the Jewish people to the land of Judea and Samaria.
Even today, we must not rest on our laurels and take the time to smell the roses of these declarations, as positive as they may be. The American recognition of the legality of settlements is dramatic and important, but it places us in charge of the future of the region. We do not have the privilege of lingering around with just the declaration; our job is to move forward and build another level on the legal and physical foundations in the field.
Two major challenges are facing us ahead of building the next level and ahead of future development: applying Israeli sovereignty in the area, along with developing infrastructure and economics to improve the quality of life of the residents living here.
Today, as in the past, the Yesha Council is working with the government on all fronts to advance this vision. Already today, master plans are being made that take into account the entire region for decades to come, in the areas of transportation, roads, electricity, water, economy and environmental protection. Everyone is being made aware of our complete right to the Land of Israel and of our concern for the entire population of the region, including residents of the Palestinian Authority. The development of the area is the guarantee of a better life for both sides, which will allow for a common discourse for each process later on.
Such a broad view, which claims that the right to the land must also include a concern for the future, is our practical compass – and it comes with many obligations. We welcome the historic American declaration, and those that preceded it, but the practical actions – sovereignty and development – must be advanced by Israel.
As we’ve been doing all these years, we’re here to do it now.
The writer is director-general of the Yesha Council.