U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced at a press briefing Monday that the U.S. no longer considers Israeli settlements in the West Bank to be illegal as a matter of international law, which The Guardian noted is “a dramatic break with decades of international law, US policy and the established position of most US allies.”
“America has finally decided that the Bible is no longer illegal,” said Mike Evans, a member of Trump’s Evangelical Advisory Team, in a statement distributed to reporters. The note explained his comment about the Bible this way: “In other words, by this move, the United States government is recognizing the Biblical prophecy of Judea and Samaria as part of Israel.” The statement said Evans “also believes that this move will allow the State of Israel to push forward with sovereignty in these disputed lands.”
The U.S. has long officially considered the settlements an obstacle to peace; Pompeo’s announcement reversed a 1978 legal opinion by the State Department that settlements in the occupied territories were “inconsistent with international law.” Pompeo said Monday that legal questions about the settlements should be decided by Israeli courts.
Reuters dubbed the announcement a victory for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a strong supporter of President Donald Trump, and noted, “Like many of the Trump administration’s pro-Israeli moves, Pompeo’s settlements announcement is likely to appeal to evangelical Christians, an important part of Trump’s political base, which he is counting on to help him win re-election in 2020.”
The Christian Broadcasting Network reported that Netanyahu released a statement saying “This policy reflects a historical truth – that the Jewish people are not foreign colonialists in Judea and Samaria. In fact, we are called Jews because we are the people of Judea.”
Religious right leaders had previously cheered Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. Allying themselves with the right wing in Israeli politics, U.S. religious right leaders have strongly opposed any peace deal that would involve Israel giving up sovereignty over land occupied in previous wars. In 2006, Pat Robertson said that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s stroke, like the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin a decade earlier, was divine punishment for “dividing God’s land.” Earlier this year, after the White House briefed evangelical leaders on Jared Kushner’s peace plan, Lance Wallnau posted a video urging his followers to send Trump a message opposing any land-for-peace deal.