Despite the US administration's announcement to the contrary, there is no question as to the unlawfulness of Israel's settler encroachment.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made headlines around the world this week in announcing that the US had shifted its position, and no longer viewed Israeli settlements as a violation of international law.
A Palestinian boy sits on the side of a road next to Israeli security forces in the West Bank village of Tubas during a demonstration against Jewish settlements on 25 February, 2018 (AFP)
In one of the stupider public statements of our time, Pompeo explained that “arguments about who is right and wrong
as a matter of international law will not bring peace”. It is stupid, first, because there is no genuine argument about the unlawfulness of the settlements; until the US spoke out of turn, Israel was alone in defending their legality.
More definitively, the role of international law is to regulate the proper behaviour of sovereign states - not to make peace by negating the law’s relevance, which truly seems a cheer for the law of the jungle.
'Reality on the ground'
Pompeo removed any doubt about this when he justified the shift by admitting that the US “recognised the reality on the ground
”. In plainer language, lawless behaviour can become lawful if sustained long enough by force - a logic that not only defies international law, but is contrary to the core legal commitments of the UN Charter.
Particularly in the area of peace and security, international law can be somewhat ambiguous. Opposing positions can be reasonably maintained, resolved by either an authorised tribunal or by practice sustained over time.