Morning Brief

United States Reverses Stance on Israeli Settlements

A dramatic shift in U.S. policy comes amid intense political deadlock in Israel.

A view of the Israeli settlement of Givat Zeev, near the Palestinian city of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, is shown on Sept. 25.
A view of the Israeli settlement of Givat Zeev, near the Palestinian city of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, is shown on Sept. 25. AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP via Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: The United States reverses its policy on Israel’s settlements in the occupied West Bank, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps issues a threat to protesters, and Bolivia is still grappling with a political crisis.

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Washington Changes Tack on Settlements

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday that the United States doesn’t consider Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank a violation of international law, a change that breaks with four decades of U.S. policy—and that of most U.S. allies. The historic shift is a victory for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he fights to remain in power.

The announcement follows moves by the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as well as its sovereignty over the disputed Golan Heights. The new decision could quash any remaining hopes of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, FP’s Colum Lynch and Robbie Gramer report.

What does this mean for Israel’s deadlock? Netanyahu’s opponent Benny Gantz faces a deadline to form a coalition government on Wednesday or Israel could face a third general election. Gantz said he also supported the U.S. move, but it is a boon for Netanyahu, who has vocally supported settlements and proposed annexing part of the West Bank. Pompeo said the announcement was “not tied to domestic politics anywhere.”

What about peace efforts? Israeli settlements have been a major holdup in peace negotiations for decades, and the U.S. policy shift has outraged Palestinians—including the chief Palestinian negotiator—as the United States continues to delay its secret peace plan. The move suggests that the United States could eventually endorse annexation, undermining its mediation efforts.

Where would annexation lead? If Israel does seek to annex parts of the West Bank, it could backfire. As Ian Lustick argued in FP in September, such a move is likely to put Israel on a path toward a one-state solution in which Jews may no longer be a majority—a prospect that many Israelis dread.

“In the long term…the statistical reality that matters is not the demographic complexion of Israel’s citizenry, but of the entire population ruled by the country,” Lustick wrote. As the number of Arabs living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea grows and exceeds the number of Jews, he argued, “permanent and deepening rule of these areas will transform Israel, from the ethnocracy it is now to something resembling an apartheid state and, eventually, into a multinational democracy.”

What We’re Following Today

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards threaten protesters. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has warned that it will take “decisive action” if ongoing anti-government protests against a rise in the price of gasoline do not stop. The demonstrations began on Friday and have spread across Iran, with banks and other buildings set on fire. It is the worst unrest since 2017, when Iranians took to the streets against economic inequality. (Those protests were put down by the IRGC.) The United States said it is monitoring the protests closely, as it announced that it would no longer offer a sanctions waiver related to an Iranian nuclear plant.

Bolivia’s interim president still faces political crisis. Jeanine Áñez, Bolivia’s interim president, was forced to cancel a trip outside of the capital on Monday after a threat on her life by a “criminal group,” according to the government, which blamed Venezuelan, Cuban, and Colombian involvement in the country’s ongoing unrest. Since former President Evo Morales was pushed to resign last week, his supporters have kept protesting, blocking roads, and clashing with security forces. At least 23 people have died and attempts at mediating the violence have so far failed.

China slams Hong Kong High Court decision. Beijing dealt another blow to Hong Kong’s special status on Monday, criticizing a ruling by the territory’s High Court that reversed the Hong Kong government’s ban on masks. A top Chinese official declared that only the Chinese legislature has the right to decide “Whether Hong Kong’s laws are consistent with the Hong Kong Basic Law,” adding that “No other authority has the right to make judgments and decisions,” an assertion that appears to undermine what remains of Hong Kong’s judicial independence. Meanwhile, a standoff between student protesters and police laying siege to a university continued Monday night with many students still holed up on campus. Forty injured activists were allowed to leave and others escaped by descending from a bridge onto a highway using ropes.

Four U.S. officials to testify in impeachment hearings. Four Trump administration officials are scheduled to testify today in public impeachment hearings, including former National Security Council Russia expert Tim Morrison and former special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker—whose role in the pressure campaign to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden is considered crucial. Democrats are also seeking to uncover whether Trump or those close to him pressured Volker to shut down an investigation into Ukrainian ex-President Petro Poroshenko, Vox reports. That could constitute a new abuse of power in the House impeachment case.

Keep an Eye On

Saudi’s Aramco listing. Saudi Arabia has announced the terms of its upcoming IPO for oil giant Saudi Aramco—the most profitable company in the world. But most of the shares will be sold to Saudi nationals and investment funds in the Middle East, Russia, and China—a sign that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ambitious economic plans could face a tough future, FP’s Keith Johnson explains.

A challenge to Ethiopia’s leader. Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed won this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, but he now faces an influential challenger, Jawar Mohammed. Jawar’s supporters led two days of protests last month, sparking deadly clashes. Abiy has struggled to move beyond Ethiopia’s fragmented politics, as Addisu Lashitew writes for FP. Next year, Mohammed is seeking to challenge him at the ballot box.

New evidence of Amazon deforestation. Brazilian government data released on Monday provides the clearest evidence yet that deforestation in the Amazon has increased under President Jair Bolsonaro, who favors economic development over conservation. Brazil’s “forest guardians” are also under threat from illegal loggers, as César Muñoz Acebes writes for FP.

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Odds and Ends

Since their inception in 2012, shareable scooters have become an ubiquitous sight in cities around the world. Now, shareable mopeds are growing in international markets, and India is the biggest single-country market—with most of its fleet docked in Bengaluru, FP’s C.K. Hickey writes.

That’s it for today.

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Audrey Wilson is an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @audreybwilson

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