Pompeo’s pushback

The November 21 letter was signed by 46% of the 233 Democrats in the House of Representatives, urging Pompeo to rescind his comments on Israeli settlements

Secretary Mike Pompeo in Jerusalem  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Secretary Mike Pompeo in Jerusalem
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
It was not surprising last month to see the letter written by 107 members of the US House of Representatives to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, berating him for having the temerity to declare that Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria are not per se illegal.
The November 21 letter signed by 46% of the 233 Democrats in the House of Representatives – including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) – urged Pompeo to rescind his November 18 statement because such a decision reverses decades of bipartisan US policy on Israeli settlements, and blatantly disregards Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Pompeo pushed back this week, as reported exclusively in The Jerusalem Post, writing to Michigan Rep. Andy Levin – who was behind the November 21 missive – that the two main points of the letter were “foolish.”
Indeed, it is. To believe that the existence of those Jewish communities is what holds up any agreement yet to be reached with the Palestinians is not just foolish. It is a distortion of history.
Yet it is something that has come to be accepted as “truth” by high-profile journalists and senior diplomats the world over. And that is why Pompeo’s declaration was important: it questioned publicly the self-perpetuating conventional wisdom on the settlements, that if the media says they are “illegal,” and European foreign ministers say they are “illegal,” then they must be illegal. No more.
First, Pompeo noted that the State Department’s determination did not reverse any policy regarding Israeli settlements, but did reverse a legal determination made during the waning days of the Obama Administration that the establishment of settlements was categorically inconsistent with international law.
“That determination was made in a failed attempt to justify the Obama Administration’s betrayal of Israel in allowing UNSCR 2334 – whose foundation was the purported illegality of the settlements and which referred to them as ‘a flagrant violation’ of international law – to pass the Security Council on December 23, 2016,” the letter read.
For the record, Resolution 2334 declared “that the establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law,” and that the UN “will not recognize any changes to the 4[th of] June 1967 lines, including with regard to Jerusalem.”
In other words, UNSCR 2334 – on which the United States abstained and let pass – says that the Western Wall, in 2019, is occupied territory.
“While you are free to fixate on settlements as a barrier to peace, you are simply wrong in referring to that view as being subject to bipartisan agreement,” Pompeo wrote to Levin. “No less a Democratic spokesman than the Senate minority leader publicly stated at his AIPAC address on March 5, 2018, that ‘it’s sure not the settlements that are the blockage to peace.’”
Regarding Levin’s charge that the Trump administration had “blatantly disregarded” the Fourth Geneva Convention, Pompeo referred him to the writings of Eugene Rostow, undersecretary of state for political affairs in the Johnson Administration. Rostow, who represented the US in the drafting of UNSCR 242, “the primary architecture for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process,” stated in 1983 that “Israel has an unassailable legal right to establish settlements in the West Bank.”
Finally, Pompeo noted that “US policy with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict largely has been consistent for decades and remains so,” and that the Obama administration’s position had handicapped the cause of peace “by erroneously injecting into the conflict an incorrect and largely irrelevant legal component.”
We agree it is wrong to prejudge the ultimate status of the West Bank; that calling the establishment of civilian settlements inconsistent with international law hasn’t advanced the cause of peace; and that a judicial resolution to the argument on who is right and wrong will not succeed.
At the same time, we are concerned that the subject could become a political football on the 2020 campaign trail and that candidates will feel a need to declare where they stand on the issue of Jews living in the West Bank. That should not become the litmus test of a candidate’s support of Israel.