The Israeli Settelments and the United States

The road from Illegal to Unhelpful

Worked by Ali Abunimah

30 Jun 1998

Dear Friends,

By reading through the quotes on the issue of the Peace Process between Israel and the Palestinians, you will see the clear, evolution (de-evolution) of US policy. These startling facts attract nary a word of comment in the hours and millions of inches of "analysis" in the press and media of the peace process.

With these quotes, it is possible to demonstrate quite clearly the absurdity of the Clinton claim to be an "honest broker."

I hope you are able to use them in letters to the media, who with few exceptions have simply adopted and endorsed, rather than reported and examined the changing American policies.

A note on sources: All the Clinton quotes I got from the White House website archive, by doing a search for the words "israeli + settlements."

The quotes I included are only a selection, so if you need more, you can search for them directly at and click on "virtual library."

All of the non-Clinton quotes are from an excellent book called "U.S. Official Statements" published by the Institute for Palestine Studies.

Ali Abunimah ahabunim



"Next I turn to the question of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories. Again, my government believes that international law sets the appropriate standards. An occupier must maintain the occupied area as intact and unaltered as possible, without interfering in the customary way of life of the area, and any changes must be necessitated by the immediate needs of the occupation and be consistent with international law. The Fourth Geneva Convention speaks directly to the issue of population transfer in article 49: "The occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its civilian population into the territory it occupies." Clearly, then, substantial resettlement of the Israeli civilian population in occupied territories, including East Jerusalem is illegal under the Convention and cannot be considered to have prejudged the outcome of future negotiations between the parties..."(U.S. Ambassador Scranton to the United Nations speaking in the Security Council, March 23, 1976)


"We consider these settlements to be contrary to the Geneva Convention, that occupied territory should not be changed by establishment of permanent settlements by the occupying power"(President Carter, Q&A with American Jewish Press Association, June 13, 1980, Washington DC.)


"U.S. Policy toward the establishment of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories is unequivocal and has long been a matter of public record. We consider it to be contrary to international law and an impediment to the successful conclusion of the Middle East peace process." (Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, before House Ctee. on Foreign Affairs, March 12, 1980)


"...We have been very clear, I think, from the beginning that we think settlements and the expansion of them are not constructive at all, not a contribution to the peace process. So the President [Reagan] has been very clear in opposing them..." (Secretary of State Schultz, Press conference, November 18, 1982.)


"Since the end of the 1967 war, the United States has regarded Israel as the occupying power in the occupied territories, which includes the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights. The United States considers Israel's occupation to be governed by the Hague Regulations of 1907 and the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention concerning the protection of civilian populations under military occupation." (U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Pickering, speaking at UNGA Third Ctee., November 27, 1989)


"Our particular opposition to today to [Israeli] settlement activity is that it constitutes an obstacle to peace. In the past, the position of the United States has been that it was, in fact, illegal." (Secretary of State James Baker, News Conference, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, July 20, 1991)



A question to both heads of state. Under the fourth Geneva Convention of August 12, 1949, concerning the protection of civilians under occupation, the Palestinians of East Jerusalem should be protected from confiscation of land. In Cairo, when Prime Minister Netanyahu came he boiled down the problem of -- the East Jerusalem settlement, to a mere housing problem and made the dangerous claim that settlements are built on Jewish land, ignoring the fact that he is building on occupied territory. Can you then blame the Palestinians if they should sort of revolt, each in his own way?

PRESIDENT CLINTON: First of all, it's obvious that who owns the land is disputed and that -- but the reason that I took the position that it would be -- that notwithstanding whatever housing needs do or don't exist, it would be better if the houses not be built in the neighborhood, the Har Homa neighborhood -- that I knew that it would be perceived by the Palestinians in just the way you have stated. And what I think is important is -- on the other hand, if I were to answer the question in the way that you have established it, it would also seem that we were deciding a final status issue the other way. (PRESS CONFERENCE BY PRESIDENT CLINTON AND PRESIDENT MUBARAK OF EGYPT White House, March 10, 1997)


Question: Mr. Clinton, despite the peace negotiations, ever since the Madrid Conference, Israel continues with its policy of settlements in the occupied Arab countries. Although Syria has signed the Nonproliferation Treaty and has been asking for years for the denuclearization of the Middle East as a region, Israel refuses, in fact, to sign and ratify this Nonproliferation Treaty and is still accumulating and amassing weapons. Don't you think, sir, that such practices go counter to the concept of peace for which you are striving? Thank you.

PRESIDENT CLINTON: First, sir, I believe the question of settlements in disputed areas is one of the things that clearly will have to be resolved in connection with this peace process, consistent with United Nations resolutions and the concept of territory for peace. I said that in my opening statement, I expect that to be worked through. (PRESS CONFERENCE BY PRESIDENT CLINTON AND PRESIDENT ASSAD, January 16, 1994, Geneva)


Question: On the question of settlements, the Israelis, according to this communique, restated their policy of no new settlements, and particularly no settlements that are funded by government money. Does this effect, in your view, the recent decision by the Israelis to -- expand settlements.....

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, look, I mean, we're not going to try to interpret what the Israelis have said in the discussions with the Palestinians on this. I mean, those are the points that they made. And, you know, our attitude on settlements has been consistent, and it hasn't changed. This is clearly an issue that the two of them are trying to wrestle with. It's obviously an issue that's difficult. It is one that we view as complicating to the negotiating process. But they're trying to wrestle with it. The declaration of principles treats settlements as an issue to be covered during the final status negotiations.(BACKGROUND BRIEFING BY SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIALS, February 12, 1995, White House Briefing Room)


Question: My question is for President Clinton. It was reported yesterday that the Israeli government is considering lifting the ban on the settlement activity. So if this happened, what will be the U.S. position with regard to this issue? And is this going to change its longstanding stand with regard to this issue?

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Well, first of all, we haven't changed our positions on any issues as a result of the election in Israel. Our positions are just what they were. So we haven't changed. The settlement issue under the Oslo Accords is a matter for determination between the parties as we move to the end of the negotiations. And we have encouraged everyone not to do anything which would weaken the chances of peace. (PRESS CONFERENCE OF PRESIDENT CLINTON AND PRESIDENT MUBARAK OF EGYPT White House, July 30, 1996)


Question: Mr. President, how do you see the settlement policy of the new government of Israel? And, Mr. Prime Minister, can you react to the President's response to this question, please?

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Well, first of all, keep in mind the settlements as an issue in the abstract, or the larger issues of settlements, are, by prior agreement of the parties, to be resolved by agreements. That's the first thing. Secondly, we know as a practical matter that the settlements issue can become a contentious one, can become a problem, as one of -- not the only problem in the peace process. So it's something that we have said repeatedly has to be handled with great care. Now, I think just saying those two things is about all that needs to be said. This is something that the more you talk about it, it could only -- you could do more harm than good in the ultimate peace process. But I think those are the two touchstones, the loadstars that ought to guide decisions as we go along on settlements.(PRESS CONFERENCE OF THE PRESIDENT AND PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU White House, July 9, 1996)