‘US Democratic presidential candidates, rights groups slam Trump admin’s decision on Israeli settlements’

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NEW YORK, Nov 19 (APP):US Democratic presidential candidates including frontrunners — Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg — have strongly criticized an announcement by the Trump administration that the U.S. will no longer view controversial Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank as violating international law.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters at the State Department on Monday that “the establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not per se inconsistent with international law,” breaking with four-decades-old US policy.

Former vice president Joe Biden called the move “an obstacle to peace.”

“This decision harms the cause of diplomacy, takes us further away from the hope of a two-state solution (of the Israel-Palestinian conflict) , and will only further inflame tensions in the region. It’s not about peace or security. It is not about being pro-Israel. It is about undercutting Israel’s future in service of Trump’s personal politics,” he said.

Senator Bernie Sanders, a leftist who is Jewish, denounced the move, saying that “Israeli settlements in occupied territory are illegal. This is clear from international law and multiple United Nations resolutions. Once again, Mr. Trump is isolating the United States and undermining diplomacy by pandering to his extremist base.”

Senator Elizabeth Warren, who is vying with Sanders for the more progressive voters in the party, similarly condemned the announcement.

“Another blatantly ideological attempt by the Trump administration to distract from its failures in the region. Not only do these settlements violate international law — they make peace harder to achieve. As president, I will reverse this policy and pursue a two-state solution,” Ms. Warren said.

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, the centrist mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and another leading candidate for the Democratic nomination, said the decision undermined peace efforts.

“The Trump administration’s statement on West Bank settlements is not only a significant step backward in our efforts to achieve a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is the latest in a pattern of destructive decisions that harm our national interests,” Buttigieg said.

Muslim Democratic lawmakers Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, both strong critics of Israel, also castigated the Trump administration following the announcement.

“Israel’s settlements in the West Bank violate international law. No matter what this corrupt and immoral Trump regime (yeah he is a lawless king-like dictator) say, it doesn’t change that fact. #FreePalestine & #ImpeachmentTrumpNow,” Ms. Tlaib, a House of Representatives member, wrote on Twitter.

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar said that “Israeli settlements violate [international] law, decades of US foreign policy, and the human rights of Palestinians. All who believe in the possibility of peace must speak up in this moment.”

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a close friend of President Donald Trump who has been a staunch supporter of settlements and proposed annexing the Jordan Valley into Israel proper, praised the move as reflecting “a historical truth — that the Jewish people are not foreign colonialists in Judea and Samaria. In fact, we are called Jews because we are the people of Judea.”

However, Palestinian leaders as well as peace advocates who view the expansion of settlements as lessening the likelihood — and the size — of a possible future Palestinian state.

“Israeli settlements steal Palestinian land, seize and exploit Palestinian natural resources, and divide, displace and restrict the movement of the people of Palestine,” Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said in a statement. “Once again, with this announcement, the Trump administration is demonstrating the extent to which it’s threatening the international system with its unceasing attempts to replace international law with the ‘law of the jungle.’ ”

Ayman Odeh, the leader of a faction of Israeli Arab members of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, tweeted: “No foreign minister will change the fact that the settlements were built on occupied land where an independent Palestinian state should one day stand beside the State of Israel.”

Pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) said that it “does not take a position on settlements. We believe settlements should be an issue for direct negotiations between the parties, not something determined by international bodies. The Palestinians must stop their boycott of US & Israeli officials and return to direct talks.”

US Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft wrote on Twitter following the announcement: “While #Israel is surrounded by neighbours who seek its destruction, the international community has the audacity to make this nation the subject of its harshest criticism. I will not stand for this, today or any day.”

“To be clear, the United States remains fully committed to the cause of peace. Today’s announcement does not alter this fact. And just as we are committed to peace, we are committed to #Israel,” Craft wrote.

Human Rights Watch (HRW), a prominent New York-based rights group, said in response to the announcement that “Israeli settlements remain war crimes.”

“This changes nothing. President Trump can’t wipe away decades of established international law that settlements are a war crime. The US has long benefited from adherence to the laws of war and should not abandon that, especially at the expense of Palestinian civilians,” Andrea Prasow, HRW’s acting Washington director said.

The Jewish Democratic Council of America’s Executive Director Halie Soifer said Pompeo’s “reversal of decades of US policy is a green light for Israeli annexation of the West Bank, which will permanently impede prospects for a two state solution.” She said Trump “doesn’t understand what it means to be pro-Israel and Jewish voters reject his recklessness.”

The liberal Mideast policy organization ‘J Street’ described the move as a “destructive gift” to the Israeli right, and accused Washington of “shattering America’s limited remaining credibility in the region and around the world.”

“This announcement is just the latest in a long series of actions by the Trump administration designed to aid the Israeli settlement movement, prevent a two-state solution and provide political gifts to Prime Minister Netanyahu,” ‘J Street’ head Jeremy Ben-Ami said in a statement.

“The timing of this announcement can only be read as last-ditch attempt to boost the prime minister’s personal prospects,” Ben-Ami added, referring to Netanyahu’s struggle to remain in office following inconclusive elections, as well as the three corruption cases facing the prime minister.