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House Democrats rebuke State Department for 'reversal' on Israeli settlements

More than 100 House Democrats condemned on Friday the State Department's recent decision to state the U.S. position on Israeli settlements as being in line with international law.

The move by the State Department is being criticized as a reversal of more than four decades of U.S. policy on the status of communities built by Israel on the West Bank, territory it seized from Jordan during the 1967 Six-Day War.

In a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the Democratic representatives wrote to express "strong disagreement" with the State Department's decision to abandon a 1978 legal opinion that viewed the Israeli settlements as "inconsistent with international law."

"The State Department's unilateral reversal on the status of settlements, without any clear legal justification, therefore has offered a tacit endorsement of settlements, their expansion, and associated demolitions of Palestinian homes," the lawmakers wrote.

Pompeo announced on Monday that the U.S. believes "the establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not per se inconsistent with international law." He said the decision came after a legal review of U.S. policy stemming back from 1978.

The 1993 Oslo Accords included that the final status of settlements would be decided in a negotiated solution between Israelis and Palestinians. Both Republican and Democratic administrations have criticized settlement expansion as harming a two-state solution.

In 2016, the U.S. abstained from voting at the United Nations Security Council on the decision affirming that Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank and east Jerusalem as a "flagrant violation of international law."

The decision, the lawmakers wrote, has discredited the United States as an "honest broker" of peace between Israeli and Palestinians and follows other decisions by the Trump Administration that they believe has "severely damaged prospects for peace."

This includes moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, closing the Palestinian mission in Washington and halting aid to Palestinian programs in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The lawmakers also accused the administration of emboldening Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his efforts to annex parts of the Jordan Valley outside of a negotiated peace agreement with the Palestinians.

The letter was led by Rep. Andy Levin (D-Mich.) and joined by 106 Democrats.

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), a signatory to the letter, told The Hill he viewed Pompeo's announcement as "an abrupt departure from longstanding U.S. policy, Republican and Democrat."

House Democrats are trying to bring a resolution supporting a two-state solution to the Israeli and Palestinian conflict to a vote on the floor, held up since July. They have 220 sponsors including one Republican, Connolly said.

"I think what Pompeo did this week, I think it underscores why we should have passed [this resolution] in July. We're now watching events on the sideline when we could have addressed it as the Congress of the United States and injected at least that forceful point of view long before events have unfolded, that make it all so much more difficult."

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