Jordan has accused the US of entrenching the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, after Washington announced it did not consider Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank to necessarily be illegal.
Ayman Safadi, the Jordanian foreign minister, criticised the US decision, saying settlements “kill the two-state solution”, the most widely accepted blueprint for Middle East peace.
“Entrenching the occupation and its injustice, and violating the resolutions of international legitimacy will not achieve peace, and will not guarantee security and stability,” he said, according to state media.
“Nothing changes the illegal reality of settlements that the international community is unanimous in condemning,” he added.
Hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers live in outposts in the West Bank, which Israel’s military captured in a 1967 war and continues to rule, controlling the lives of more than 2.5 million Palestinians.
Israelis living in the settlements, some as large as small cities, have full citizenship rights and can travel freely between the two territories, while West Bank Palestinians live under Israeli military rule and cannot vote in Israeli elections.
World powers overwhelmingly consider the settlements illegal under international law, many of them built on land confiscated from Palestinian families and squeezing them into ever-smaller enclaves.
Palestinians want all settlements to be removed. They say the settlements’ presence on land they claim for a future independent Palestine makes the reality of such a state almost impossible.
In a dramatic break with decades of international law and global consensus, the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, made the announcement on Monday.
He said arguments about who was right and who was wrong as a matter of international law were counterproductive to any future agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. Pompeo even suggested the move would “provide the very space for Israelis and Palestinians to come together to find a political solution”.
“Calling the establishment of civilian settlements inconsistent with international law has not advanced the cause of peace,” Pompeo said.
Palestinians, their allies, rights groups and international law analysts disagreed, stating that the establishment of settlements on occupied land was a war crime.
The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said the EU policy on Israeli settlements “is clear and remains unchanged: all settlement activity is illegal under international law and it erodes the viability of the two-state solution and the prospects for a lasting peace”.
The move is a political boost for Benjamin Netanyahu at a precarious time for him. The 70-year-old prime minister is fighting for his political survival as Israel prime minister while his opponent, Benny Gantz, is trying to assemble a coalition government. Pompeo said the timing of the announcement was “not tied to domestic politics anywhere”.
Netanyahu later said he had spoken to Donald Trump on Monday night and told the US president “he had corrected a historic injustice”.
“I said to President Trump that we are not in a foreign land,” he said of the Palestinian territories. “This is our homeland for over 3,000 years. The reason that we are called ‘Jews’ is because we came from here, from Judea,” he added, using the region’s biblical name.
In September, days before he was due to run in a national election, Netanyahu said he intended to annex Jewish settlements, but gave only a vague timeframe.
After that announcement, warned that the move could have a “major impact” on the peace treaty between Jordan and Israel.
The US policy shift is likely to trigger significant anger in Jordan, a staunch US ally whose population is about 70% Palestinian, who are descended from refugees. The Jordanian government’s official position is that those refugees and their descendants will one day be able to return to an independent Palestinian state, and considers any policy that undermines the two-state solution to be an existential threat.
However, Israel has made efforts in recent years to build diplomatic ties with other Arab countries, especially Gulf states, that are not based on concession to the Palestinians. Netanyahu has held up the drive as a success, and the reaction to the US decision from other Middle Eastern states was muted.
The foreign ministry in Egypt, which also has a peace treaty with Israel, said that “Cairo is committed to international decisions and international law regarding settlements, and believes they are illegal and contrary to international law”.
Since he entered office, Trump has repeatedly made moves welcomed by Israeli hardline nationalists that have been interpreted as detrimental to Palestinians and their hopes for a future state.
The US president recognised the contested city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, slashed humanitarian aid to Palestinian refugees and closed their diplomatic offices in Washington. Trump’s ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, has also been a longtime supporter of the settlement movement.