The Trump administration has announced it no longer views Israel settlements in the occupied West Bank to be a violation of international law, in another blow to possible Israel-Palestine peace negotiations. On Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced a reversal to the U.S. position, putting the U.S. at odds with the international community. A U.N. resolution in 2016 declared the settlements a “flagrant violation” of international law. Israel’s embattled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed Pompeo’s announcement as a historic day for Israel, but Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat condemned the U.S. decision. Soon after Mike Pompeo announced the new U.S. policy, the U.S. Embassy in Israel issued a travel warning to Americans in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. From Washington, D.C., we speak with Noura Erakat, a Palestinian human rights attorney and legal scholar. She is an assistant professor at Rutgers University and the author of “Justice for Some: Law and the Question of Palestine.”
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: In a sharp reversal to more than 40 years of U.S. policy, the Trump administration has announced it no longer views Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank to be a violation of international law. In 1978, the State Department issued a legal opinion stating that settlements were, quote, “inconsistent with international law,” and every administration, Democratic and Republican, has upheld that. On Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced a reversal to the U.S. position.
SECRETARY OF STATE MIKE POMPEO: The establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not, per se, inconsistent with international law.
AMY GOODMAN: This announcement puts the U.S. at odds with the international community. In 2016, a U.N. resolution declared the settlements a “flagrant violation” of international law. Israel’s embattled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed Pompeo’s announcement as a historic day for Israel, but Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat condemned the U.S. decision.
SAEB EREKAT: Israeli colonial settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem, are not only illegal under international law, they are war crimes. And the statement of Mr. Pompeo, the secretary of state of the United States, is absolutely rejected and must be condemned.
AMY GOODMAN: Soon after Mike Pompeo announced the new U.S. policy, the U.S. Embassy in Israel issued a travel warning to Americans in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.
We’re joined now by Noura Erakat, Palestinian human rights attorney and legal scholar, assistant professor at Rutgers University. Her latest book, Justice for Some: Law and the Question of Palestine.
This is an abrupt reversal, Noura Erakat. Can you talk about the significance of it?
NOURA ERAKAT: I would actually temper that a little bit: This is not necessarily a reversal in U.S. policy, only in its stated policy. For 50 — for more than five decades, since 1967, all U.S. administrations have talked out of both sides of their mouth. On the one hand, they have condemned settlements as counterproductive to peace and as a contravention of international law, and, on the other hand, have provided Israel with the unequivocal diplomatic, military and financial aid in order to entrench their settlements.
Even the Obama administration, as it was abstaining on U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334 condemning the settlements as a flagrant violation, has been part of the problem. They issued that abstention only two weeks before they left office. Simultaneously, the Obama administration increased aid from $3 billion to $3.8 billion a year. And in 2012, that same administration used its first veto at the Security Council to condemn a resolution, a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning settlements using exact U.S. foreign policy language on settlements.
So, what we’re seeing now is not a sharp reversal of U.S. foreign policy on the question of settlements and Palestine, but instead the culmination of it. For us to blame this on Trump is basically to exculpate ourselves and to create a revisionist history. Instead, we should be accountable and actually take responsibility for how we have been part of this problem.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And could you talk about the timing of this announcement in the midst of an essential stalemate in Israel in terms of a new government, and Benny Gantz has a deadline this week of forming a new government, or there may — or Israel may be forced to a third election?
NOURA ERAKAT: Yeah. This is what’s so tragic about all of this. What we’re talking about right now, in the West Bank is about 700,000 settlers living in the midst of a population of 3 million Palestinians, who, because of those 700,000 settlers, who are living in exclusive colonial settlements, surrounded by military and civilian Israeli infrastructure — cuts up Palestinian life into 20 noncontiguous Bantustans, where they can’t reach one another. We’re talking about the subjugation of a Palestinian population at the whim of these illegal colonial settlements.
And now we’re seeing this discussion — we’re seeing the U.S. recognize this as not a violation of international law, which actually has no basis because they can’t change that status; they can only be in violation of it. But the tragic part is that the U.S. administration is doing this in order to support Netanyahu in his own bid to consolidate power in Israel. Palestinians are pawns, are pawns to be moved around in order to shape U.S. domestic policy.
And the other thing that should be highlighted is, although Netanyahu, who represents the right, is celebrating this as a culmination of his own vision, Benny Gantz and the Blue and White party supports it and welcomes the Trump administration announcement, as well. There is no daylight between the so-called Israeli left and the so-called Israeli right. What we’re seeing is a consolidation of their settler-colonial takings.
We want to frame this as a contravention of the peace process and not acknowledging the fact that what’s ongoing is a violation of human rights, the entrenchment of an apartheid regime, and that the reversion to the peace process is precisely the problem. It was the Oslo Accords that put settlements on the back burner and made it part of the final status negotiations that we’re not getting to, and so that what we’re seeing now in terms of what the U.S. administration is doing is forcing Palestinians to accept every new incremental territorial taking as new facts on the ground, that are then presented to Palestinian negotiators, who have to accept those facts on the ground, which are war crimes, as previously stated, and when the Palestinians protest, they are told that they are the obstacle to peace.
So, the reversion to the peace process here, the reversion to the U.S. status quo ante on how to handle the situation, is the reversion into a straight dead end and back to where we are. We have to think about this radically anew about how to transcend the situation. This isn’t about the peace process. This isn’t about two states. These are about flagrant human rights violations. We are witnessing the entrenchment of an apartheid regime and the U.S. at the helm of that process.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about this move coming right after the European Union’s top court ruled that European Union countries must identify products made in Israeli settlements on their labels, in a decision that was welcomed by rights groups, sparking anger in Israel. I’m reading from a Chicago Tribune piece: “The European Court of Justice said that when products come from an Israeli settlement, their labels must provide an 'indication of that provenance' so that consumers can make 'informed choices' when they shop.” How do these two issues relate?
NOURA ERAKAT: I lost sound.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you hear me now, Noura Erakat? Can you hear me now? Can you hear me?
NOURA ERAKAT: I lost sound. Should I answer this question?
AMY GOODMAN: OK. We’re not —
NOURA ERAKAT: Hi.
AMY GOODMAN: Hi. Can you hear me?
NOURA ERAKAT: Hello. Yes, I can. Now I can hear you.
AMY GOODMAN: OK, perfect. I’m asking you about the —
NOURA ERAKAT: The European Court of Justice decision.
AMY GOODMAN: Yes, yes.
NOURA ERAKAT: Yes. So, that decision is, at the very least — all that decision is doing is providing consumers with the ability to make their own choices about where they want to purchase their products. It is not banning Israeli settlement projects, despite the fact that they are a flagrant violation. It is not imposing sanctions on Israel, which is actually the obligation of third parties in relation to what’s happening in the West Bank. All they are doing is labeling products. This is about a business and human rights framework. And Israel is saying that this is discriminatory and targeting Israel. And yet it’s the very least the European Court of — European Union should do.
And this points us to the other problem. Despite the fact that the Trump administration has removed the emperor’s clothes and made very clear that the U.S. is part of the problem and not an honest broker, no other state has rushed to fill the vacuum that the U.S. has left behind. Even the European Union is willing to throw money at the Palestinians in order to make their situation more tolerable, but is not interested in actually applying the pressure and the coercion upon Israel in order to change this status quo and to deliver an actual viable future. And so, what they’re doing right now is the very least of labeling products, when instead they should be boycotting those products altogether, applying the sanctions. And here, because Israel gets to control this conversation about this being targeted, rather than it be a conversation where Israel has to defend itself, we’re seeing this as somehow radical.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And speaking of pressure on Israel, the BDS movement, the enormous effort that Israel is expending all around the world to try to —
NOURA ERAKAT: Right.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: — to silence BDS supporters — could you talk about the impact of that movement on Israeli policy?
NOURA ERAKAT: So, the BDS movement now is more relevant than ever, precisely because it’s been made clear. The U.S. is not an honest broker but is a pillar of the problem. The European Union has no intention of resolving the conflict, but only of containing the conflict. There are no other diplomatic alternatives. And instead, Palestinians are expected to be held in the status quo. We have eight Palestinians who were killed in an aerial strike in Gaza last week in the middle of the night, and yet are not asking questions about that. There was a Palestinian journalist who was shot by a sniper. His eye was shot out as he was reporting what was happening in Gaza. We still are not talking about that. And so, instead, we remain in this discourse of a diplomatic intransigence and a nonsensical and farcical peace process that is actually a central part of the problem.
And so, what the BDS movement represents is a grassroots alternative. It is people power demonstrating their conscience and their solidarity. And for Americans and people in the United States, it is more critical than ever, precisely because we are not witnesses to what is happening to Palestinians. We are part of the problem. We are a central pillar of the problem, because we provide Israel with the impunity it needs to continue its war crimes, with the funding it needs to build those settlements, and with the cover that it receives here in our political parlance. And so, when we’re talking about Palestine, we are not talking about a foreign policy issue. We are talking about a pillar of what the U.S. is doing. We are part of this problem, the same way that we are part of separating families at the borders, the same way that we are denying access to asylum seekers, the same way that we are overseeing a mass incarceration problem that overrepresents black bodies. We are also overseeing the subjugation of Palestinians as part of our policy.
AMY GOODMAN: Noura Erakat, we want to thank you so much for being with us. And, of course, last year, the Trump administration dropped the use of the word “occupied,” speaking of parlance. Noura Erakat is a Palestinian human rights attorney and legal scholar, assistant professor at Rutgers University. Her latest book, Justice for Some: Law and the Question of Palestine.
When we come back, as South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg soars in the polls in Iowa, we look at why some believe the primary system, the order of the states, the top two states, some of the whitest in the country — why some believe the system is racist. Stay with us.