The United States Embassy in Israel has issued a travel warning to Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, cautioning about Palestinian unrest following Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s announcement on Monday that the U.S. government will ease its stance on Israeli settlements.
“The U.S. Embassy advises U.S. citizens in or considering travel to or through Jerusalem, the West Bank, or Gaza to maintain a high level of vigilance and take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness in light of the current environment,” The embassy said in a security alert on Monday.
“Individuals and groups opposed to the secretary of state’s recent announcement may target U.S. government facilities, U.S. private interests and U.S. citizens. Potential targets include public events, such as demonstrations, holiday events, and celebratory gatherings; hotels, clubs, and restaurants popular with U.S. citizens; places of worship; schools; shopping malls and markets; tourism infrastructure; public transportation and airports.”
In the security alert issued Monday, the U.S. Embassy in Israel said American citizens in the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem to avoid “non-essential movements and events that attract attention.”
The Embassy also advised people to avoid all demonstrations and plan routes to avoid checkpoints on roads and into and out of the West Bank or other areas.
Monday’s announcement was the latest move by the Trump administration to bolster Israel's position and undermine Palestinian claims regarding land sought for a future state.
Pompeo essentially rejected a 1978 State Department legal opinion holding that civilian settlements in the occupied territories are “inconsistent with international law.” He also said the White House was reversing an Obama administration directive that allowed the U.N. Security Council to pass a resolution declaring the settlements a “flagrant violation” of international law.
Trump already broke with his predecessors by deciding earlier to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, moving the U.S. Embassy to that city and closing the Palestinian diplomatic office in Washington.
While the new announcement is receiving praise from Israeli officials including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who called it “historic,” the international community, which overwhelmingly considers the settlements illegal, is not taking the news favorably.
In a statement sent to Fox News Vice-President of the European Commission Federica Mogherini said, “The European Union's position on Israeli settlement policy in the occupied Palestinian territory 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 statement went on to say, “The EU will continue to support a resumption of a meaningful process towards a negotiated two-state solution, the only realistic and viable way to fulfil the legitimate aspirations of both parties.”
Israel captured the West Bank and east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war and quickly began settling the newly conquered territory.
Today, some 700,000 Israelis live in the two areas, which are both claimed by the Palestinians for their state. After the war, it immediately annexed east Jerusalem, home to the holy city’s most important religious sites, in a move that is not internationally recognized.
But Israel has never annexed the West Bank, even as it has dotted the territory with scores of settlements and tiny settlement outposts. While claiming the fate of the settlements is a subject for negotiations, it has steadily expanded them.
Some major settlements have over 30,000 residents, resembling small cities and serving as suburbs of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
The Palestinians and supporters say the settlements undermine hopes for a two-state solution by gobbling up land sought by the Palestinians.
A spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Nabil Abu Rdeneh, condemned Pompeo’s announcement.
“The U.S. administration has lost its credibility to play any future role in the peace process,” he said.
Ayman Odeh, the leader of the Joint List of predominantly Arab parties in the Knesset [Israeli Parliament], tweeted, “No foreign minister will change the fact that the settlements were built on occupied land on which an independent Palestinian state will be established alongside Israel.”
Jordan's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ayman Safadi, tweeted on Monday, “Settlements in occupied #Palestine are a blatant violation of Int’l [International] law & UNSCRs [United Nations Security Council resolution]. They are an illegal action that’ll kill 2-state solution. Jordan’s position in condemning them is unwavering. We warn against dangerous consequences of US change of position on settlements on MEPP [Middle East Peace Process].”
Fox News’ Andrew O’Reilly and The Associated Press contributed to this report.