Behind Trump's Decision, Domestic Policy Challenges and the Pursuit of Breaking Diplomacy

The recognition of the legality of the settlements by Washington, Monday, is part of the continuity of the diplomacy of the American president in the Middle East.

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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo outlines the White House's position on the Israeli settlements on Nov. 18 in Washington. ANDREW HARNIK / AP

On some foreign policy issues, the often confused administration of Donald Trump proceeds methodically. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of them. On Monday, November 18, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took a fresh blow to the United States' long-held position in ensuring that "The establishment of settlements of Israeli civilians in the West Bank is not in itself contrary to international law". A provocative statement for the Palestinian side.

Mike Pompeo took refuge behind former President Ronald Reagan, who estimated during a meeting with journalists shortly after his arrival at the White House on February 2, 1981, that these settlements "Were not illegal". Ronald Reagan had then taken a step against Jimmy Carter's previous Democratic administration, whose legal adviser, Herbert Hansell, had considered the transfer of population to occupied territory a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

The Secretary of State kept on Monday to remind what had been added at the time the Republican President, namely that the continuation of the colonization of the occupied Palestinian territories from the 1967 war was "Misguided" and "Unnecessarily provocative". In fact, the position of successive American administrations, both Democratic and Republican, has always been to regard colonization as a "Obstacle to peace".

This reserve has not stopped the exponential growth of a population in the West Bank, excluding East Jerusalem, from 16,200 people at the time of Ronald Reagan's declaration to 427,800 in 2018, according to the Israeli organization Peace Now. This growth has made it increasingly difficult to create a Palestinian state alongside Israel.


Represented in Israel by a very right-wing ambassador, David Friedman, who has always supported Israeli colonization, the administration of Donald Trump was the first not to criticize the continuation of construction in the West Bank. A reversal that is part of a logic to question what has been for half a century the parameters of a peace negotiation between Israelis and Palestinians.

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At the instigation of Donald Trump, Washington unilaterally recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, without however pronouncing on its geographical boundaries. Palestinians want the eastern part of the city, which was militarily captured in 1967, to host the capital of the state they are calling for. The United States has also sought to challenge the recognized refugee status of Palestinians displaced in the first two Arab-Israeli wars. These inflections have resulted in an unprecedented break between Washington and the Palestinian side.