The world was shaken up recently by a seismic shift in the American position on Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria, which were first established after the 1967 Six-Day War. The outrageous thing about the world’s reaction—and how long it’s taken for America to again support the truth—is that there should never have been any question about the legality of these Jewish towns and cities.

The denunciations of the “new” American policy would be shocking if it were not for the cynical, deluded and unfair positions of so many countries around the world in matters concerning Israel and the Middle East.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared on Nov. 18 that after significant study by State Department analysts and historians, the United States does not consider Israeli communities across the 1949 armistice lines in Judea and Samaria to necessarily be in violation of international law. This was a direct repudiation of the Carter position, and restored the considerably saner position first advanced by the Reagan administration and never repudiated thereafter until the waning days of the Obama administration in December 2016.

Since the 1967 armistice, various United Nations advisory statements and resolutions have condemned the new Jewish communities. The United Nations and the world community invariably refer to these communities as “settlements”—a term that conjures the image of scattered log cabins in the wilderness, not booming cities like Ma’ale Adumim or Modi’in Illit, whose population is approaching 75,000.

A short historical summary provides a powerful case for Israel’s prevailing legal rights over the area properly known as Judea and Samaria.

This territory fell into Israeli hands as a result of Jordanian—and other Arab states’—aggression in June 1967, along with the Sinai Peninsula, Gaza and the Golan Heights. Judea and Samaria—long standing biblical names—was renamed by the Jordanian government after the armistice in Israel’s 1948 War of Independence as “the West Bank” of the Jordan River.

No country but Pakistan recognized Jordan’s claimed sovereignty over the West Bank, but the name stuck.

Why would the world continue to use that artificial name, a vestige of Jordan’s illegal 1948 war of aggression? Answer: Palestinian propaganda.

Another question: Whatever it’s called, since no major country or world body recognized Jordanian sovereignty over the territory, who does it belong to?

And this brings us to the nub of the issue of Israeli “settlements in the occupied territories.”

The last undisputed sovereign over Judea and Samaria was Great Britain, the Mandatory power after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, established at the 1920 San Remo Conference. Britain’s sovereignty was officially declared and secured by the League of Nations the following year.

Great Britain then unilaterally peeled off the part of its Mandate territory east of the Jordan River to create the Hashemite Emirate (later “kingdom”) of Jordan, but Britain maintained sovereignty over the Mandate west of the Jordan River.

After World War II, the United Nations inherited the role of the League of Nations, and under U.N. Charter Article 80, Britain continued its sovereign Mandatory power in Palestine.

In May 1948 Britain renounced its Mandate, letting the chips fall where they may.

The entire area that is now Israel and Judea and Samaria lacked a sovereign power until David Ben-Gurion announced the establishment of the State of Israel. When Jordan invaded and took control of Judea and Samaria, it asserted its sovereignty over the territory, conferring Jordanian citizenship on the stateless Arabs there, to which these Arabs did not object.

But, again under the U.N. Charter, land acquired through wars of aggression cannot be claimed as sovereign territory. Virtually no one—including the United Nations—accepted the outrageous Jordanian claim, meaning that Judea and Samaria still lacked a legitimate sovereign power.

By then, the United Nations had inherited the role of the League of Nations, but under UN Charter Article 80, Britain had continued its sovereign Mandatory power in Palestine.

If any nation had a legal right to assert sovereignty there, it was Israel: the inheritor of sovereignty over that part of Palestine not stolen by Jordan.

When the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 242 after the 1967 war, the United Nations formalized the armistice between the combatants, and provided rudimentary parameters for a permanent peace. In the entire text, the words “Palestine” and “Palestinian” were not even mentioned. This was because there was no Arab political organization of international standing to assert a right of sovereignty over Judea and Samaria.

Even the PLO’s charter, established three years earlier, renounced any claim of sovereignty on the “West Bank.” The only territory that the PLO wanted to “liberate” was the Zionist enterprise in Israel.

Only after Israel’s victory in 1967 did the PLO decide that the (former) West Bank area of Jordan was worth liberating.

In short, all that Pompeo asserted last month is that there is no sovereign power in Judea and Samaria that has standing to object to the establishment of Jewish communities.

Linked to this is his recognition that the Fourth Geneva Convention, which outlawed the forcible relocation of an aggressive conqueror’s population into victim territories, was not in any way applicable to voluntary Israeli communities established in an area with no clear sovereign. Indeed, Jordan gave up all sovereign claims to these territories three decades ago.

We can all argue about the political value of these Israeli communities, and the difficulty they may present in resolving the overall conflict. However, Pompeo’s affirmation of American policy regarding the legality of these communities recognizes that Israel has not violated international law in allowing Jews to move to places that are “disputed,” and that were shared by Arabs and Jews prior to Jordan’s illegal takeover in 1948, when all Jews were expelled.

As for the Palestinian Arabs, they have no sovereign claim whatsoever since they have never had sovereignty over one square inch of land, anywhere and at any time.

Pompeo’s courage in repudiating the nonsensical idea that Jews are legally unwelcome in their indigenous lands should be celebrated by all people with a conscience and knowledge of the history of those lands.

Ken Cohen is editor of Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME), which publishes educational messages to correct lies and misperceptions about Israel and its relationship to the United States.

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