Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on Monday (Nov. 18) that the U.S. is softening its position on Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, rejecting a 1978 State Department legal opinion that concluded Israeli settlements in the region are “inconsistent with international law.”
Speaking to reporters during a press conference, Pompeo said the reversal of the decades-old position “recognized the reality on the ground.” Pompeo added that he sees the settlements as “ill-advised” — a term once used by Ronald Reagan — rather than illegal “per se.”
The decision was met with mixed reactions from religious leaders and faith-based advocacy groups.
Mike Evans, founder of The Jerusalem Prayer Team and a member of Trump’s informal group of evangelical Christian advisers, praised the move. In an interview with Religion News Service, Evans said Pompeo called him shortly after the press conference while en route to meet President Trump.
“I told (Pompeo) it was a tremendous answer to prayer from evangelicals,” he said, asking the secretary of state to express gratitude to the president.
Evans said in a separate statement that the announcement was on par with the administration’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. He told RNS it reminded him of a passage from the Biblical book of Genesis in which God refers to Israel by saying, “I will bless those who bless you, but I will curse those who curse you.”
“In our opinion, it’s recognizing the Bible as legal,” said Evans, who also plans to expand his Friends of Zion Museum in Jerusalem to include an exhibition dedicated to Trump. “They’re saying it’s true.”
Evans, who calls himself “the Israel guy” among Trump’s evangelical advisers, said Pompeo offered to have dinner with his wife.
The State Department did not immediately return requests to confirm the call or corroborate Evans’ account.
Paula White, a Florida pastor who was recently tapped to head the White House’s Faith and Opportunity Initiative, said in a tweet that “as Evangelicals and supporters of Israel we applaud this bold and correct move.
Christians United for Israel, a conservative Christian group that claims to be the “largest pro-Israel organization in the United States,” also lauded the administration’s rejection of the 1978 legal opinion, which is also called the Hansell Memorandum.
“CUFI did not agree with the Hansell Memorandum’s conclusion and we welcome its revocation,” the tweet reads. “Our policy of not taking a position on final status issues remains unchanged.”
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee did not directly praise the administration’s decision, declaring in a tweet that their organization does not take a position on settlements. The same tweet added that AIPAC “believe(s) settlements should be an issue for direct negotiations between the parties, not something determined by international bodies.”
Other religious groups condemned the move as a significant obstacle that could imperil any potential peace deal.
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Source: Religion News Service