‘Law of the jungle’ as US backs settlements

Tinderbox: A Jewish settlement (left) and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (right) © Getty

Is the liberal international order collapsing? The Trump administration just smashed years of legal history by declaring that Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank are now acceptable.

Yesterday the US Secretary of State stood at a podium and reversed more than 40 years of global law.

Israeli settlements in the West Bank are "not per se inconsistent with international law" said Mike Pompeo.

The move flew in the face of international agreements, United Nations policy, and rulings by international courts.

Saeb Erekat, the secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, called it an attempt “to replace international law with the law of the jungle”.

In this dispute, the liberal world, led by Europe and America, has desperately tried to patch together a delicate peace.

The main tool has been international law — the set of rules generally accepted in relations between nations.

Now many fear that international law itself is a victim of Monday’s abrupt US decision.

Recently the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists set the doomsday clock — a symbol which represents the likelihood of a man-made global catastrophe —to the closest point to midnight it has ever been.

This was justified by the threats of nuclear war, climate change, and the decline of democracy.

Today, many experts add a fourth threat: the collapse of the liberal international order.

Wild West

We should not despair says one camp. The US policy shift on Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank makes no difference from a legal point of view. Americans do not make international law: that is up to bodies such as the United Nations. These will last long after Donald Trump is gone.

Sorry, but the law of nations has been on the skids for 20 years, long before Trump, says another camp. In the 1990s. During the past decade, the number of liberal democracies has actually been declining, reversing a seemingly unstoppable trend. The idea of rules-based international order is really just a myth.

You Decide

  1. Is Donald Trump a good deal-maker?


  1. Draw a map of Israel and Palestine. Label the disputed regions of Gaza and the West Bank.

Some People Say...

“We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”

Nelson Mandela

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Israel is the world’s only Jewish state, created in the wake of the horrors of World War Two. Palestinians are the Arab population who come from the land now controlled by Israel. They want to establish a state on part or all of the land. In name, the West Bank is controlled by the Palestinian Authority, but it is under Israeli occupation.
What do we not know?
When, if ever, Trump’s plan to bring peace to the region will be revealed. “Certainly, the administration can’t move forward until there is a new Israeli government in place. Then it will have to brief the new PM (presumably Gantz) about what’s in the plan and get his approval to publish it,” said international expert Jake Walles in October.

Word Watch

United Nations
The UN has called the settlements “a flagrant violation under international law”.
On July 9, 2004, the International Court of Justice ruled that the settlements are illegal, and that Arabs in the region should be compensated by Israel.

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