American citizens have been warned against traveling to Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, following a change in US policy over Israeli settlements. Up to now, the US has agreed with the rest of the world that the settlements are illegal. On Monday, Mike Pompeo softened that position, and the Palestinians aren’t happy about it. Now the Jerusalem embassy is strongly suggesting that Americans avoid the places where they’re least happy.
Israel’s right to settle the land it conquered in 1967 is one of the most controversial issues in the Middle East peace process. Israel says the land where it’s building settlements traditionally belongs to the Jewish people. The rest of the world mostly says that’s irrelevant.
- Israel currently has settlements in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Golan Heights, all areas captured during the 1967 Six-Day War. Until 2005, there were also settlements in the Gaza Strip, but these were evacuated as part of Israel’s plan to disengage from that area. Around 800,000 people live in the settlements.
- The Fourth Geneva Convention sets out the law for countries that occupy captured territory. The Convention states that “the Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”
- Israel claims that the Convention doesn’t apply in this specific case. However, most other countries say that it does, and the settlements are illegal under international law. Until now the US has agreed with this position.
- However, on Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the US is shifting its position on the settlements. Specifically, Pompeo said the administration was reversing an Obama-era decision that the US would allow the UN Security Council to pass a resolution that officially declared the settlements illegal.
- Pompeo went on to say that “The establishment of Israeli settlements in the West Bank is not inconsistent with international law.” This brings US policy on the settlements into line with Israel’s.
- While it also puts the US in opposition to most of its allies, Pompeo pointed out that 40 years of opposition to the settlements “hasn’t worked… it hasn’t advanced the cause of peace.”
- The Trump administration hopes this move will kick-start the stalled peace process. However, it was condemned by Palestinian activists and their Western and Arab allies. Now the US Embassy to Israel warns,
“Individuals and groups opposed to the secretary of state’s recent announcement may target U.S. government facilities, U.S. private interests and U.S. citizens.”
- Official advice is that Americans shouldn’t travel in the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem unless it’s absolutely necessary, and should also avoid public events. Any US citizen in these areas should remain vigilant and security-aware.
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