Palestinians have condemned a decision by the US to abandon its four-decades-old position that Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank are inconsistent with international law.
Chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said it threatened to replace international law with the “law of the jungle”.
But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the US move, saying it “rights a historical wrong”.
The UN regards the settlements as being illegal under international law.
Settlements are communities established by Israel on land occupied in the 1967 Middle East war. They have long been a source of dispute between Israel and the international community, and the Palestinians.
On Monday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said: “The establishment of Israeli civilian settlements is not, per se, inconsistent with international law.” The status of the West Bank, he added, was “for the Israelis and the Palestinians to negotiate”
The move was seen as a victory for Mr Netanyahu, who has pledged to apply Israeli sovereignty over all the settlements, as well as the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea.
Removal of the settlements
The Palestinians have long called for the removal of the settlements, where about 600,000 Jews live, arguing that their presence on land they claim for a future independent Palestinian state makes it almost impossible to make such a state a reality.
“Israeli colonial settlements in the occupied Palestinian Territories, including East Jerusalem, are not only illegal under international law, they are war crimes,” Mr Erekat said. “Once the Trump administration decides to undermine international law… this constitutes a major threat to international peace and security.”
A spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Nabil Abu Rudeina said: “The United States is neither qualified nor is authorised to negate international legitimacy resolutions, and it has no right to give any legitimacy to Israeli settlement.”
Palestinian militant groups also weighed in, calling it the official funeral of the Oslo peace process and urging stepped up resistance to the Israeli occupation.
The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said the bloc’s position was that “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”.
In 2017, US President Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and ordered the relocation of the US embassy to the city from Tel Aviv. The decision was condemned by Palestinians, who want East Jerusalem to be the capital of a future Palestinian state, and the UN General Assembly demanded its cancellation.
And earlier this year, Mr Trump recognised Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights, which were seized from Syria in the 1967 war.
Mr Pompeo’s announcement was made two days ahead of a deadline for Benny Gantz, Mr Netanyahu’s political rival, to form a coalition government following an inconclusive general election in September. Mr Gantz was given the opportunity after Mr Netanyahu himself failed to form a ruling coalition.
Hours later, the US state department alerted Americans planning to visit Jerusalem, West Bank or Gaza that “those opposed to the secretary of state’s announcement may target US [government] facilities, interests, and citizens”.