Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Monday that the US is softening its position on Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, the latest in a series of Trump administration moves that weaken Palestinian claims to statehood. Pompeo repudiated a 1978 State Department legal opinion that held that civilian settlements in the occupied territories are “inconsistent with international law.” The move angered Palestinians and immediately put the US at odds with other nations working to end the conflict, the AP reports. The Trump administration views the opinion, the basis for long-standing US opposition to expanding the settlements, as a distraction and believes any legal questions about the issue should be addressed by Israeli courts, Pompeo said. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ spokesman condemned Pompeo’s announcement and said settlements are illegal under International law. “The US administration has lost its credibility to play any future role in the peace process,” he said.
“Calling the establishment of civilian settlements inconsistent with international law has not advanced the cause of peace,” Pompeo said. “The hard truth is that there will never be a judicial resolution to the conflict, and arguments about who is right and who is wrong as a matter of international law will not bring peace.” Even though the decision is largely symbolic, it could give a boost to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is fighting for his political survival after he was unable to form a coalition government following recent elections. In addition, it could spell further trouble for the administration’s oft-promised peace plan, which is unlikely to gather much international support by endorsing a position contrary to the global consensus. (Click for more on Pompeo's announcement and what it might mean.)