Last week US President Donald Trump's administration made a notable move. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the US is reversing previous policy which basically accepted that Israel's colonial settlements in the occupied West Bank are a violation of international law.
This is a moment of some significance and importance, but not for the reasons generally stated. In reality, all US administrations have in practice treated Israel's settlements in the West Bank as if they were legal. While it's true that – much like the EU still does – the Americans have voiced toothless objections to Israeli policy in the West Bank, in practice they have done nothing to stop its colonial expansion.
A lot of proverbial ink is spilled about Israeli settlements, so it's worth remembering the reality of what they actually are. At least half a million (some say as many as 700,000) Israeli colonists live in the West Bank, including east Jerusalem, amongst millions of stateless, oppressed Palestinians.
Israeli settlements are not just illegal, or "an impediment to the peace process" as a common platitude puts it; under the Fourth Geneva Convention they are a war crime. "The Occupying Power [in this case Israel] shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies," says the Convention.
International law is very clear that the West Bank is occupied territory, and almost all states recognise this fact. Israeli settlements are not simply "Jewish neighbourhoods" as Israeli propaganda would have us believe. They are violent, racist edifices of colonial policy.
Palestinians are forcibly removed from their homes and land in order to build these settlements. The "housing units" that we hear so much about whenever more are approved by the government are, in most cases, only for Jews to live in. Even Palestinian citizens of Israel are for the most part not permitted to live in Israeli settlements; they can help to build them, but not live in them. These racist, Jews-only colonies are maintained by racist Israeli laws enforced by an army of occupation which essentially imposes a form of military dictatorship.
The Palestinian homeland is thus being eroded, piece by piece. Palestinians have been dispossessed, driven out and massacred by Israel since its foundation in 1948 (and even prior to its foundation that year by the Zionist movement).
What Trump has done, though, is not some aberration or outlying rogue policy. In fact, it is the logical conclusion of US, British and EU foreign policy to date. George W Bush, Barack Obama and others did indeed mouth timid, empty condemnations of Israeli actions in a similar fashion that would-be Democrat presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren did this month. Pompeo's announcement, she said, was a "blatantly ideological" attempt by the Trump administration to "distract from its failures" in the region. "Not only do these settlements violate international law — they make peace harder to achieve. As president, I will reverse this policy and pursue a two state solution."
In fact, the Trump administration has only stated more openly what Democrat and other US Presidents have carried out in practice. Condemnations of Israeli settlements are meaningless when they are followed up by nothing but political, military and economic support for the colonial state.
It should not have to be this way. The US presidency has literally billions of leverage points over Israel; 3.8 billion of them to be precise. In one of its last acts, the Obama administration agreed to give Israel $3.8 billion in military aid every year for at least ten years.
Trump's controversial moves to support Israel in occupied Palestine – this declaration about the settlements; acknowledging Jerusalem as the capital of Israel; and the recognition of Israel's annexation of the Syrian Golan Heights – are in fact simply declaring openly what previous presidents have done under cover of toothless condemnations. If nothing else, you have to hand it to Trump for his frankness.
Obama gave Israel carte blanche to continue occupying Palestinians forever by enforcing its apartheid regime on the indigenous people, but he did this covertly. Trump, though, is simply doing the same, but overtly for all to see.
However, they probably have not realised it yet, but the move by Trump and his lackies in favour of the Israeli hard right is likely to accelerate the demise of Israel's apartheid regime. If there is no land left for the "Palestinian state" to be built on, it makes it harder for the advocates of the so called "two-state solution" to continue pushing this delusion. That particular fig leaf for the Zionist "left" will no longer be available.
The only way forward will then be a unitary democratic state, with one person, one vote for everyone between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea, and with all Palestinian refugees being given their full right of return. That has to be the way forward if Israelis and everyone else in the region — and possibly the world — are to live in peace and justice.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.