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U.S. Policy On Israeli Settlements In The West Bank Is Loosened

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced another big shift in U.S. policy toward Israel on Monday. He said the United States no longer views Israeli settlements in occupied territory as illegal under international law. This change thrilled Israel's right-wing government and equally dismayed Palestinians, who said the decision is destructive to peace. Naomi Zeveloff reports from Tel Aviv.

NAOMI ZEVELOFF: Hundreds of thousands of Israelis live in the occupied West Bank, which Israel captured from Jordan in 1967. Palestinians, most governments and the U.N. Security Council all agree that these settlements violate international law, which prohibits settling occupied territory. But now Pompeo says the United States no longer shares that view after it reversed a 1978 State Department opinion on the matter.

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MIKE POMPEO: The establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not, per se, inconsistent with international law.

ZEVELOFF: Palestinians say this is only the latest U.S. attempt to undermine their claims to a state on the West Bank.

HANAN ASHRAWI: This is one of the most dangerous policies ever adopted by a U.S. administration. And it is an attempt to reshape and rewrite international law. It's an egregious violation and to create a situation of perpetual conflict.

ZEVELOFF: Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Palestinian official, says the move, along with U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, diminishes the prospect of an independent Palestine.

ASHRAWI: You cannot have a state without territory. You cannot have a state that incorporates illegal settlements in it. And you cannot have a state whose capital has been stolen and expropriated and given to Israel illegally.

ZEVELOFF: But many settlers are celebrating.

ODED REVIVI: I definitely think it is a positive decision.

ZEVELOFF: Oded Revivi is a representative of the Yesha Council, an umbrella group of settlers in the West Bank.

REVIVI: If you follow through what Secretary Pompeo has actually said, he said that calling the settlements illegal, it hasn’t promoted any peace. And therefore we need to try and find different approaches if we're really interested in promoting peace.

ZEVELOFF: After the U.S. announcement, he says it's time to apply Israeli law to the settlements. That's widely viewed as a step toward annexation. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also praised the decision. In a video posted on Facebook, he called it a, quote, "historic day" for Israel.

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PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: (Foreign language spoken).

ZEVELOFF: The American government, Netanyahu said, has now put an end to the lie that settlements are illegal. Netanyahu claimed the policy change as a, quote, "huge achievement" for Israel. It comes as his political rival Benny Gantz tries to form the next government. Gantz has until Wednesday night to succeed. Otherwise Israel may head to its third election in a year. For NPR News, I'm Naomi Zeveloff in Tel Aviv. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.