On June 16, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unveiled a sign that reads, “Trump Heights.” The sign sits at the site of an Israeli settlement in the Golan, which Israel occupied—along with the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza, and the Sinai Peninsula—during the 1967 War. Israel claimed sovereignty over the Golan in 1981 in defiance of international law, and in March of this year, President Trump recognized Israel’s claim of annexation of that land.
Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Golan, and blockade of Gaza, remain firmly in place, despite UN resolutions calling on Israel to withdraw from territories it occupied in the 1967 War. Since that time, Israel has illegally built and expanded settlements in those areas in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits an occupying force to transfer its own population into areas that it occupies. There are currently more than 650,000 Israelis living in settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as well as about 26,000 settlers in the Golan.
The Trump Administration, in addition to recognizing Israeli annexation of the Golan, has recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, moved the US Embassy there from Tel Aviv, and given no indication that it recognizes Palestinian claims to any part of the city or its hope that it is also the capital of a future Palestinian state. The White House has also not pushed back against Prime Minister Netanyahu’s campaign promise in April to annex Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The US Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, and the US Special Envoy for the Middle East, Jason Greenblatt, have both expressed their support of Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank, including settlements. Amb. Friedman not only favors Israeli settlement construction and expansion; he has also led efforts to raise funds for the settlement of Beit El, a nationalist religious settlement near Ramallah. It remains legal for US citizens to make tax-free contributions for the construction of illegal Israeli settlements.
Previous US foreign policy convention on settlements—including the late President George H.W. Bush’s decision not to provide loan guarantees to Israel in opposition to Israel’s settlement project and President Obama’s decision not to block a UN resolution demanding a halt to settlement construction in Dec. 2016—The current US Administration’s disregard for international law is especially troubling. The US Senate has also made no effort to differentiate between Israel and Israeli-controlled areas, where the illegal settlements are located, in a bill adopted earlier this year, Senate Bill 1, the “Combatting BDS Act of 2019.” Several senators opposed the bill on the grounds that it violated US citizens’ First Amendment rights.
In late June, Palestinian and US Christians met and articulated “what would make for peace.” Among the necessary steps is the rejection of unilateral US measures, “which endanger the prospects of a comprehensive, negotiated peace settlement.” Those gathered also committed “to communicate regularly and persistently with elected officials to ensure that they know of our deep concerns with current US policy and approach, urging them to work in the interests of peace and justice, and not enact laws or policies that benefit one side at the expense of the other, or that are opposed to US and international laws.”
In these summer months, you can take that commitment seriously, acting in several ways to voice your opposition to the several ways that the US legitimizes Israeli settlements by writing or calling your elected representatives in Washington, DC; making appointments to visit their in-district offices while they are on recess from sessions in Washington, DC; and writing letters to the editor of your local newspaper expressing your view that it is in the US’ interest to support international law on the issue of settlements.