fbpx When were the Settlements not Legal? – The Israel Guys

When were the Settlements not Legal?

On Monday, November 18th, 2019, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the United States no longer views Israel’s settlements as illegal. In this shocking and historic announcement, Pompeo went on to say that “after carefully studying all sides of the legal debate, the establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not per se inconsistent with international law.” He stated that “calling the establishment of civilian settlements inconsistent with international law has not advanced the cause of peace.”

To call this move by the Trump Administration unprecedented would be an understatement. I would almost venture to say that this announcement is bigger than the United States’ recognition of Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. Israel has maintained control of the Golan Heights since 1967, and even though some nations opposed their sovereignty there, the U.S. never seriously asked Israel to consider giving up the territory. The U.S. voted to move their embassy to Jerusalem in 1996 – it just took 21 years for a president to garner up enough courage to follow through with the law. 

For the U.S. to consider the settlements as legal, however, is quite a different story. In 1978 the Carter administration decided that settlements were inconsistent with international law. Then, in 1981, President Reagan disagreed and decided that the settlements in and of themselves were not illegal, even though he was in favor of the eventual establishment of a Palestinian state. Since that time, each administration all the way up until Obama maintained a status quo approach to the issue. Obama broke that status quo when the United States did not veto UN Resolution 2334 which stated that Israel’s settlement activity constituted a flagrant violation of international law and had no legal validity

With all of this considered, it is indeed a historic moment for Israel and the world that the Trump administration has chosen to stand so strongly with Israel, and their inherent right to their homeland. 

Since the U.S. has now come out publicly for the legality of the settlements, why has the rest of the world taken the opposite stance for so many years? There have been numerous United Nations resolutions enacted over the years, many of them condemning Israel and stating that settlement activity is illegal. To explain, I’d like to give a short overview of Resolution 242 (which is the one most often cited) and the Fourth Geneva Convention Article 49. 


UN Resolution 242, November 22nd, 1967

This resolution called for two things: 

  • Withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict (Six-Day War)
  • Termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every state in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.”

After 1967, Israel withdrew from most of the territory that it had liberated in the Six-Day War, including the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip. Since no other state had sovereignty over Judea and Samaria (Jordan claimed it but relinquished their claims in 1988), the second part of Resolution 242 should not apply to Israel. 

Fourth Geneva Convention, Article 49, 1949

For years, the international community has viewed Israeli settlements to be in violation of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention which states: “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” Israel has maintained that it is not in violation of Article 49, since, in its view, Israeli citizens were neither deported nor transferred to the territories, and they cannot be considered to have become “occupied territory” since there had been no internationally recognized legal sovereign prior. 

International Reactions 

The world has been quick to push back against the shocking announcement from the Trump administration. Unsurprisingly, the Palestinian Authority immediately called an emergency cabinet meeting to discuss a strategy for confronting the United States’ declaration. PA Cabinet leader Mohammed Shtayyeh said that his government will also call on the International Criminal Court to immediately start an investigation of the settlements (as requested by the PA some time ago). 

The EU also made their position clear, stating that “all settlement activity is illegal under international law and it erodes the viability of the two-state solution and the prospects for a lasting peace, as reaffirmed by UN Security Council Resolution 2334”. France joined the EU, affirming their position that settlements are illegal under international law. Turkey said that the U.S. opinion on Israeli settlements has no validity and Egypt and Jordan (allies of Israel) were quick to criticize the U.S. policy change on Judea and Samaria.

From a plain reading of the various resolutions brought against Israel over the years, and the Fourth Geneva Convention, it’s easy to conclude that Israel’s settlements have never been illegal. But who’s to say that the United Nations, European Union, or any other international body are the authority when it comes to the validity of the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria anyway? 

As Christian Zionists, we are extremely grateful to President Trump and the American administration for recognizing Israel’s sovereignty in Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, and for this historic declaration of the legality of Israel’s settlements. Let’s remember though, that ultimately, God made a covenant with Abraham that will never be made null or void, and that promise alone is enough to make every square inch of the land of Israel legal in our book. 

God’s promises will endure forever. 

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