By signing an agreement at Ariel University today that removed an explicit restriction that had prevented US-Israel scientific research cooperation agreements from including Israeli institutions located in occupied territory beyond the Green Line, the Trump administration has yet again handed a major gift to the settlement movement while discarding decades of bipartisan US policy. Even while the normalization agreement between Israel and the UAE has put de jure annexation of the West Bank on hold, steps like these show that the administration is fully empowering the ongoing process of de facto, creeping annexation of occupied territory.
Actions that funnel US taxpayer dollars to settler enterprises and provide an American imprimatur for Israeli annexation of occupied territory will not stand the test of time. A future administration that respects international law and seeks to help achieve a comprehensive two-state resolution to the conflict must reverse this decision and others that seek to erase the Green Line on which a negotiated final border will be based. They must make clear that US policy unequivocally differentiates between the State of Israel and the territory it occupies, that West Bank settlements violate international law and that the US does not recognize Israeli sovereignty over these settlements.
It’s no surprise to see this agreement pushed for and signed by Ambassador David Friedman, a longtime settlement benefactor who has made it his personal mission to legitimize and validate Israeli settlements, with contempt for international law and the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace. As the Trump administration fears American voters will soon send it packing, it is scrambling to give its right-wing friends as many gifts as possible on the way out. Reports indicate the agreement may have resulted in part from pressure by Sheldon Adelson — the pro-settlements mega-donor who is a major benefactor of Ariel University, and who has pumped tens of millions of dollars into the president’s struggling campaign.
By extending effective recognition of Israeli sovereignty over West Bank settlements, the Trump administration has embraced the same doctrine as the Global BDS Movement — insisting that there is no difference between the State of Israel and the territory it occupies beyond the Green Line. It is empowering all those who wish to reject all territorial compromise and prevent a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian agreement — and undermining Israel’s future as a democratic homeland for the Jewish people.