Statement from St. Louis Friends of Israel

Editor’s note: St. Louis Friends of Israel released the following statement about the U.S. State Department’s announcement that the United States will no longer consider Israeli  settlements in the West Bank to be illegal.

St. Louis Friends of Israel (SLFI) supports the announcement by the U.S. State Department that Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria are not illegal, and are not contrary to international law. SLFI believes that the final status of Judea and Samaria should be determined in bilateral talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud) immediately welcomed the policy change, calling it historic. Opposition leader Benny Ganz (Blue and White party) stated, “I applaud the U.S. government for its important statement, once again demonstrating its firm stance with Israel and its commitment to the security of the Middle East. The fate of the settlements should be determined by agreements that meet security requirements andpromote peace.”

The U.S. statement is also significant in light of the recent European Union ruling requiring special labels on products made in the disputed territories.

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There is a long history of legal sanction for Israeli rights in the territories, going back to the Balfour Declaration by Great Britain in 1917, the San Remo Conference of 1920 (ratified by the League of Nations in 1923), and Article 80 of the United Nations Charter in 1945. Subsequent wars against Israel initiated by Jordan in 1948 and 1967 resulted in Jordan seizing control of the land (1949) and in Israel retaking control of the “West Bank” [of the Jordan River] in 1967. Jordan relinquished all claims in 1988 in a peace treaty. U.N. resolutions such as 2334 are not legally binding. The Geneva Convention forbids the forced transfer of populations, not the voluntary movement of people into territories. Israel therefore has legal rights to Judea and Samaria, to be modified or affirmed only by an internationally recognized treaty.

International Law expert Eugene Kontorovich, Director of the Center for International Law in the Middle East at George Mason University, labeled Monday’s announcement as “a major development in U.S.-Israel relations. “The international-law arguments against settlements were devised solely for the case of Israel and have not been applied in any other situation. The U.S. now correctly takes the position that Israel is not an occupying power in the West Bank, and Jews living in Judea and Samaria is not a war crime. This does not close the door to a two-state solution. It does mean the negotiations about such a solution will no longer begin from the premise that Israel has no claim to this land or stole it from the Palestinians. That false legal theory only served to harden Palestinian positions and make successful negotiations impossible.”

St. Louis Friends of Israel is a bi-partisan organization with support from across the Jewish community, and we look forward to continued support for Israel from both Democrats andRepublicans. 

— Traci Goldstein and Galit Lev-Harir, Co-Presidents of St. Louis Friends of Israel