T’ruah condemns in the strongest possible terms today’s announcement from the Trump Administration that they will no longer consider Jewish Israeli settlements in the West Bank to be illegal. The settlements represent a clear violation of human rights: the 4th Geneva convention prevents the transfer of civilian populations into occupied territories. The United States cannot simply decide by fiat that international law no longer applies beyond the Green Line. Doing so further codifies the denial of basic human rights, including civil and political rights, to the millions of Palestinians living under Israeli military rule.
Pompeo’s statement that “Calling the establishment of civilian settlements inconsistent with international law has not advanced the cause of peace,” is an insult to all efforts to achieve peace and human rights for all people. International human rights law does not block peace, but rather sets the parameters for ensuring the equality and dignity of all people.
The Trump Administration has repeatedly put up roadblocks to Palestinian human rights and statehood. Today’s announcement signals yet again to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu that the US will not prevent the de jure annexation of the West Bank. Anyone who visits the West Bank, as many T’ruah rabbis, cantors, and supporters have done, knows that de facto annexation is already reality for Palestinians under occupation. De jure annexation will create permanent inequality for Palestinians.
American policy for decades has been to support self-determination and human rights for both Israelis and Palestinians. The American Jewish community–including all major Jewish institutions–have supported this policy as well. In 1967, Rabbi Joseph Dov Soloveitchik, the preeminent American Orthodox rabbi of the 20th century, argued for returning territories if doing so will save lives:
One does not have to be a rabbi or a posek to know that the Land of Israel was granted to us in its entirety… However, the preservation of a single life pushes aside the entire Torah… It is prohibited for rabbis or anyone else to declare in the name of the Torah that it is forbidden to return any part of the land, when stable peace can save the lives of thousands and ten thousands of our brethren who dwell in Zion.
Today’s announcement will pave the way for Israel to take unilateral steps that will make peace harder to achieve, entrench an occupation that violates Palestinian human rights and endangers Israelis, and permanently threaten Israel’s standing in the international community. Those of us working toward a long-term two-state solution that guarantees the self-determination of both peoples must oppose any unilateral moves that place a roadblock in the path toward peace.