Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has made an unprecedented visit to Psagot, a Jewish settlement in the Israeli-occupied West Bank – the first such visit by a top US official.
The trip to Psagot came a year after Mike Pompeo said the settlements did not contradict international law, reversing a long-held US position.
The declaration outraged Palestinians, who oppose settlements on land they claim for a future independent state.
Mike Pompeo later paid a similar visit to the occupied Golan Heights.
Last year, President Donald Trump officially recognized Israeli sovereignty over the strategic plateau, which Israel seized from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed in 1981.
President Trump is a close ally of Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, and analysts say Mike Pompeo’s actions could be seen as a valedictory gesture before he and the president leave the world stage.
The secretary of state arrived in Israel on November 18 for what is likely to be his last trip to Israel before leaving office in January.
After meeting PM Netanyahu in Jerusalem on November 19, he announced that the state department would declare as anti-Semitic the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which campaigns for a complete boycott of Israel over its policies towards the Palestinians.
Israel says that BDS opposes the country’s very existence and is motivated by anti-Semitism. BDS rejects the charge, saying Israel is using it as a cover for its actions.
Mike Pompeo also told reporters that “for a long time the state department took the wrong view of settlements” in the West Bank.
He said: “It took a view that didn’t recognize the history of this special place and instead now today the United States department of state stands strongly to the recognition that settlements can be done in a way that’s lawful and appropriate and proper.”
Mike Pompeo then travelled by helicopter to the Psagot winery, in a Jewish settlement close to Ramallah.
More than 600,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war. Most of the international community considers the settlements illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.
Thousands of Palestinian protesters
held a “day of rage” in the Gaza Strip on January 28, while the
Israeli military deployed reinforcements in the occupied West Bank.
The blueprint, which aims to solve
one of the world’s longest-running conflicts, was drafted under the stewardship
of Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner.
Standing alongside Israeli PM
Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House on Tuesday, President Trump said his
proposals “could be the last opportunity” for Palestinians.
Reports said Benjamin Netanyahu was
planning to press ahead with annexing 30% of the occupied West Bank, with a
cabinet vote due on February 2.
Israel has settled about 400,000
Jews in West Bank settlements, with another 200,000 living in East Jerusalem.
The settlements are considered illegal under international law, although Israel
Speaking on Tuesday, President
Mahmoud Abbas said it was “impossible for any Palestinian, Arab, Muslim or
Christian child to accept” a Palestinian state without Jerusalem as its
He said: “We say a thousand times, no, no, no.
“We rejected this deal from the start and our stance
The militant Palestinian Islamist
group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, also rejected the deal which it
said aimed “to liquidate the Palestinian national project”.
The UN said it remained committed to
a two-state solution based on the boundaries in place before the 1967 war, when
Israel seized the West Bank and Gaza.
PM Benjamin Netanyahu described President Trump’s plan as the “deal of
Israel “will not miss this opportunity”, he said.
“May God bless us all with security, prosperity and peace!” the Israeli prime minister added.
Standing alongside Israeli PM Benjamin
Netanyahu at the White House, President Donald Trump has presented his
long-awaited Middle East peace plan, promising to keep Jerusalem as Israel’s
President Trump proposed an independent Palestinian state and the
recognition of Israeli sovereignty over West Bank settlements.
He said his proposals “could be the last opportunity” for
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas dismissed the plans as a
He said in a TV address from Ramallah in the West Bank: “I say to Trump and Netanyahu: Jerusalem is not for sale, all our
rights are not for sale and are not for bargain. And your deal, the conspiracy,
will not pass.”
The blueprint, which aims to solve one of the world’s longest-running
conflicts, was drafted under the stewardship of President Trump’s son-in-law
Thousands of Palestinians protested in the Gaza Strip earlier on January 28,
while the Israeli military deployed reinforcements in the occupied West Bank.
The joint announcement came as both President Trump and PM Netanyahu faced political challenges at home. Donald Trump is the subject of an impeachment trial in the Senate while the Israeli PM on January 28 dropped his bid for immunity on corruption charges. Both men deny any wrongdoing.
David Friedman, the US ambassador to Israel, said that the timing of the
announcement was not tied to any political development, adding it had been
“fully baked” for some time.
President Trump’s proposals are:
The US will recognize Israeli sovereignty over territory that Donald Trump’s plan envisages being part of Israel. The plan includes a conceptual map that President Trump says illustrates the territorial compromises that Israel is willing to make.
The map will “more than double the Palestinian territory and provide a Palestinian capital in eastern Jerusalem”, where President Trump says the US would open an embassy. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) said President Trump’s plan would give Palestinians control over 15% of what it called “historic Palestine”.
Jerusalem “will remain Israel’s undivided capital”. Both Israel and the Palestinians hold competing claims to the holy city. The Palestinians insist that East Jerusalem, which Israel occupied in the 1967 Middle East war, be the capital of their future state.
An opportunity for Palestinians to “achieve an independent state of their very own” – however, he gave few details.
“No Palestinians or Israelis will be uprooted from their homes” – suggesting that existing Jewish settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank will remain.
Israel will work with the king of Jordan to ensure that the status quo governing the key holy site in Jerusalem known to Jews as the Temple Mount and al-Haram al-Sharif to Muslims is preserved. Jordan runs the religious trust that administers the site.
Territory allocated to Palestinians in President Trump’s map “will remain open and undeveloped for a period of four years”. During that time, Palestinians can study the deal, negotiate with Israel, and “achieve the criteria for statehood”.
President Trump said: “Palestinians are in poverty and violence, exploited by those seeking to use them as pawns to advance terrorism and extremism. They deserve a far better life.”
The UN has condemned Israeli plans to build more settlements in the occupied West Bank.
According to UN spokesman, “unilateral actions” were an obstacle to peace based on a two-state solution.
On January 24, PM Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would build 2,500 more homes in Jewish settlements “in response to housing needs”.
It is the second such announcement by the Israeli authorities since President Donald Trump took office on January 20.
Palestinian officials said the plans undermined peace hopes by building on land they want for a future state.
Stephane Dujarric, the spokesman for the UN secretary general Antonio Guterres, said: “For the secretary general there is no Plan B for the two-states solution.
“In this respect any unilateral decision that can be an obstacle to the two-state goal is of grave concern for the secretary general.
“There is a need for the two parties to engage in a bona fide negotiation to reach the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine, two states for two people.”
Donald Trump has indicated that he will be more sympathetic to settlement construction than his predecessor, Barack Obama, and has appointed a staunch settlement supporter as his ambassador to Israel.
Image source Wikimedia
Last month, he criticized President Barack Obama for declining to veto a UN Security Council resolution which demanded Israel immediately cease all settlement activities and warned they were “dangerously imperiling the viability of a two-state solution”.
About 500,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The settlements are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.
Most of the new homes approved on January 24 will be built in existing West Bank settlement blocs, including 902 in Ariel and 652 in Givat Zeev.
One hundred will be constructed in Beit El, a settlement near Ramallah that reportedly has received funding from a foundation run by the family of Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner.
Following the announcement, Benjamin Netanyahu declared on Twitter: “We are building – and continuing to build.”
Benjamin Netanyahu says he still supports a two-state solution, but on January 22 he reportedly told ministers that he was lifting restrictions on construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as the city’s municipality approved permits for 566 new homes in the settlements of Pisgat Zeev, Ramat Shlomo and Ramot.
He also discussed the peace process with the Palestinians with President Trump in a telephone conversation, during which he was invited to a meeting in Washington in early February.
“The president emphasized that peace between Israel and the Palestinians can only be negotiated directly between the two parties, and that the United States will work closely with Israel to make progress towards that goal,” the White House said.
Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi strongly denounced January 24 announcement.
She said in a statement: “Once again, the Israeli government has proved that it is more committed to land theft and colonialism than to the two-state solution and the requirements for peace and stability.
“Such a deliberate escalation of Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise constitutes a war crime and the flagrant violation of international law and conventions, in particular UN Security Council resolution 2334.”
Hanan Ashrawi called on the US and the rest of the international community to “undertake serious and concrete measures to bring about a full cessation of all settlement activities and to hold Israel to account for these disastrous plans with punitive measures and sanctions before it completes the destruction of the territorial and demographic contiguity of the West Bank”.
The Conference for Peace in the Middle East, with focus on starting peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, is being held in Paris.
Over 70 countries and international organizations are expected to reaffirm support for a two-state solution to the decades-old conflict.
The conference is hosted by Jean-Marc Ayrault and French President François Hollande is expected to speak at.
Palestinians have welcomed the meeting but Israel – which is not attending – says the conference is loaded against it.
The last round of direct peace talks collapsed amid acrimony in April 2014.
Israel and the Palestinians have been invited to hear the conclusions of the meeting, but not to participate in the summit itself.
Image source Wikimedia
The conference comes at a time of tension between Israel and the international community after the UN passed a resolution in December 2016 denouncing Israel’s settlement activity on occupied land.
Israel accused the US and the Obama administration of engineering the motion and enabling it to pass by not using its power of veto in the UN Security Council.
The White House denied colluding to get the resolution passed.
Reports say a draft statement for the meeting calls on Israel and the Palestinians “to officially restate their commitment to the two-state solution” and avoid taking “unilateral steps that prejudge the outcome of final status negotiations”.
A “two-state solution” of a Palestinian country alongside Israel has long been endorsed by both sides but there are sharply divergent visions as to the type of state which should emerge.
Israel rejects international involvement in the peace process, saying a settlement can only come through direct talks.
PM Benjamin Netanyahu called the Paris meeting “a rigged conference” which Israel would not be bound by.
He said on January 12: “[It’s] rigged by the Palestinians with French auspices to adopt additional anti-Israel stances.
“This pushes peace backwards.”
Secretary of State John Kerry would be at the meeting to ensure “whatever happens in this conference is constructive and balanced”.
Spokesman Mark Toner said the US did not “want to see anything that attempts to impose a solution on Israel”.
Israel is concerned that the conference might set the terms for a final agreement and seek to get it adopted at the UN, a move it feels would undermine future negotiations.
Despite years of on-off peace talks, major differences still separate Israel and the Palestinians.
Palestinians fiercely object to Israeli settlement activity in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, territory it wants for a future state.
The settlements, home to about 600,000 Israelis, are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.
Israel says Palestinian incitement and violence, and a refusal to accept Israel as a Jewish state, are key obstacles to peace.
Other core issues at the Paris conference will include the future status of Jerusalem and the fate of millions of Palestinian refugees.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has condemned as biased a speech by outgoing Secretary of State John Kerry on Israeli-Palestinian issues.
John Kerry said the prospect of a peace deal based on a two-state solution was in grave jeopardy as Israeli settlement building on occupied land was a major problem.
PM Benjamin Netanyahu said he was disappointed with the speech, which he said was “unbalanced” and “obsessively focused” on settlements.
John Kerry had “paid lip service to the unremitting Palestinian campaign of terrorism” against Israel, he said.
He added that the conflict centered on the Palestinians’ refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist, but John Kerry “does not see the simple truth”.
Earlier, President-elect Donald Trump tweeted in support of Israel, saying he would not allow it to be treated with “disdain and disrespect”.
Image source Wikimedia
He urged Israel to “stay strong” until he assumed office next month.
France, which will host an international conference to lay down the framework for a future peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians in Paris in January, indicated support for John Kerry’s position.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said John Kerry’s speech was “clear, committed and courageous”.
Following the speech, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas suggested he was ready to resume peace negotiations if Israel stopped activity within its settlements.
The chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said President Mahmoud Abbas was “fully confident” that a “just, comprehensive, and lasting solution” could be reached.
He said: “If the Israeli Government agrees to cease settlement activity, including in East Jerusalem, and to implement the agreements signed by the two sides, the Palestinian leadership will be willing to resume negotiations.”
Last week, the United States chose not to veto a UN Security Council resolution calling for an end to Israeli settlement construction, leading to an angry response from Israel.
The issue of Jewish settlements is one of the most contentious between Israel and the Palestinians, who see them as an obstacle to peace and the creation of a viable Palestinian state.
More than 500,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The Jewish settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.
In his speech, John Kerry said that despite Israeli claims to the contrary, UN condemnation of illegal Jewish settlements on occupied land was in line with American values.
John Kerry said: “The two-state solution is the only way to achieve a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians. It is the only way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state. That future is now in jeopardy.
“The Israeli prime minister publicly supports a two-state solution, but his current coalition is the most right-wing in Israeli history with an agenda driven by the most extreme elements.
“The result is that policies of this government, which the prime minister himself just described as more committed to settlements than any Israel’s history, are leading in the opposite direction. They are leading towards one state.”
Israel has postponed a vote to authorize construction of almost 500 new homes in Jewish settlements in occupied East Jerusalem.
The Israeli committee’s decision apparently follows a request from PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s office.
The move also comes ahead of a speech on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by Secretary of State John Kerry.
On December 23, the US chose not to veto a UN Security Council resolution calling for an end to settlement construction.
The decision to abstain infuriated Benjamin Netanyahu, whose spokesman said on December 27 he had “ironclad information” from Arab sources that the White House had helped draft the language of the resolution and “pushed hard” for its passage.
Image source Wikimedia
However, a US state department spokesman said the accusation was “just not true”, but he hoped the resolution would “serve as a wake-up call” for Israel.
More than 500,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.
The UN resolution passed on December 23 stated that the establishment of settlements “has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-state solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace”.
Benjamin Netanyahu responded over the weekend by summoning the ambassadors of the US and the 14 countries on the Security Council who voted in favor of the resolution, recalling Israel’s ambassadors to New Zealand and Senegal, cutting aid to Senegal, and canceling a visit by Ukraine’s prime minister.
The Jerusalem Planning and Housing Committee had indicated it would press ahead with a planned vote on authorizing 492 new homes in the settlements of Ramat Shlomo and Ramot.
However, on December 28, planning committee member Hanan Rubin said the vote had been postponed.
Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to lay out his vision for ending the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and address what a senior state department official described as “misleading critiques” of the Obama administration by the Israeli government.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has said the resolution “paves the way” for the upcoming conference on Middle East peace in France on January 15.
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