Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday announced that Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria, which was renamed “the West Bank” by Jordan in 1948, were not “inconsistent with international law.” CNN noted indignantly that this “breaks with international law and consensus,” but in reality, no state and no entity, including the Palestinian Authority, has any valid legal claim to that territory other than Israel itself.
“After carefully studying all sides of the legal debate,” Pompeo said, “this administration agrees with President Reagan: the establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not, per se, inconsistent with international law,” although he added that the U.S. government was “expressing no view on the legal status of any individual settlement” or “addressing or prejudging the ultimate status of the West Bank.” This decision, Pompeo added, was “based on the unique facts, history and circumstances presented by the establishment of civilian settlements in the West Bank.”
The announcement represented a break with the stance of the Obama administrations and previous administrations that had regarded the Israeli settlements as a sticking point in the vaunted “peace process,” and repeatedly called upon the Israelis to suspend them. But Pompeo was right. The “unique facts, history and circumstances” of Judea and Samaria include the fact, however uncomfortable it may be to the political and media elites, that the West Bank is not “occupied Palestinian land.” There is actually no Palestinian land to occupy. There never has been a Palestinian state in history, and the Palestinian nationality itself wasn’t invented until the 1960s, as a propaganda point that could be used to attack Israel. The Palestinian Arabs are no different culturally, linguistically, or religiously from the neighboring Arabs of Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan.
The reality, as the new book The Palestinian Delusion: The Catastrophic History of the Middle East Peace Process shows, is that this land was part of the Ottoman Empire. When that empire was crumbling at the end of World War I, it ceded the territory to the League of Nations, which awarded it to Britain for the express purpose of establishing a national home for Jews. On November 2, 1917, British foreign secretary Arthur Balfour issued a momentous statement in a letter to Lord Lionel Walter Rothschild, the leader of the British Jewish community:
His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.
That included what is now known as the West Bank, and of course, Israel is that national home for the Jewish people. Thus the rightful owner of the West Bank territory is Israel, and no other state has a valid claim. What’s more, while it was captured by Jordan in 1948 and subsequently annexed, Israel recaptured it in the 1967 war. Throughout human history, it has been universally recognized that if one nation attacks another but loses the subsequent war, it is liable to lose some territory to the nation that was attacked, and that this is a legitimate matter involving the self-defense of the nation that was attacked. Only when it comes to Israel has that right not been recognized.
The Trump administration is thus on firm ground in recognizing that Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria do not contravene international law. Indeed, Pompeo could have gone much farther, and not added in the caveat that the U.S. was not “addressing or prejudging the ultimate status of the West Bank.” Nonetheless, this step, like the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and of the Israeli annexation of the Golan Heights, is a welcome indication that unlike previous administrations, the Trump administration is unwilling to bow to violent jihadi intimidation and excoriation from the international media, and is instead ready to stand for what’s right no matter what may ensue. Courage has been in extremely short supply in Washington and all over the country for quite some time; it is refreshing to see it again.
Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. He is author of the New York Times bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad. His latest book is The Palestinian Delusion: The Catastrophic History of the Middle East Peace Process. Follow him on Twitter here. Like him on Facebook here.