Russia and other thuggish countries with territorial designs beyond their borders are no doubt rejoicing over the Trump administration decision to stop regarding Israel’s occupation and settlement of the West Bank as a violation of international law. Republican and Democratic administrations for the past five decades have justifiably condemned Israel’s occupation practices as unacceptable and against United Nations principles rejecting territorial acquisition by military force.
With Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s announcement reversing the U.S. position, the United States officially cedes the moral justification to intervene when other countries invade and occupy their neighbors. Pompeo’s announcement effectively shines a green light for other countries to disregard international law. If millions of people are subjugated and oppressed in the process, well, too bad.
Americans should be under no illusion about why the administration chose this moment to act. President Donald Trump faces imminent impeachment. His demonstrated tendency in embarrassing situations is to deflect attention with dramatic action elsewhere. Embattled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is fighting for his own political survival while facing potential criminal prosecution for corruption. Trump is Netanyahu’s political savior.
As always, the 2020 U.S. presidential election colors everything Trump does. He seems more than willing to scrap longstanding U.S. policy and principles if doing so would garner him a few extra votes. Until he got caught, he was happy to undermine U.S. national security concerns and give Russia the military upper hand in Ukraine if it helped damage his most formidable political opponent.
Previous presidents have understood the importance of separating their personal political ambitions from U.S. policy goals abroad. They have drawn an unmistakable line when other nations violated international law, whether it’s Iraq’s 1990 invasion and annexation of Kuwait or Russia’s 2014 occupation and annexation of Crimea. Those presidents knew that international order can quickly break down unless all countries abide by the principles laid out in the U.N. charter and resolutions.
Israel has long used settlement construction as a way of establishing “facts on the ground” that then become the illegitimate basis for asserting new territorial rights.
“With their actions and rhetoric, the president and his advisers have given the Israeli government carte blanche to expand settlements, entrench occupation and move toward formal annexation of the West Bank,” says Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of the pro-Israel policy group J Street. “By discarding decades of bipartisan U.S. policy and flagrantly disregarding international law, they are trampling on the rights of Palestinians and helping the Israeli right-wing to destroy Israel’s future as a democratic homeland for the Jewish people.”