EVEN though it happened back in 1995, I remember the conversation like it was yesterday. I had gone to the West Bank town of Hebron to do a story on Israeli settlers living in Beit Hadassah, one of four Jewish enclaves in the heart of Hebron’s old commercial district.

Surrounded by 100,000 Palestinians, over 400 settlers then lived in Beit Hadassah. Drawn from the West Bank’s Gush Emunim and Kach settler movements, many of Hebron’s Jewish settlers were known for their mix of religious fundamentalism and ethnocentric nationalism. They were an uncompromising and often aggressive community.

It was late afternoon when I bumped into one settler, Miriam Weiss, baby son in her arms, who was watching her husband unload boxes of cornflakes and Goldstar beer from their car, an Uzi machine pistol hanging from his shoulder.

“Does your son have a future in Hebron?” I asked. “Of course,” she told me. “His presence, like that of all Jews here, is living proof that the city’s Jewish history will not be forgotten.”

And what if Prime Minister Rabin insists that you and other settlers have to leave, I put to her?

“That’s something the government should bring before the Jewish people. Either it stands for the right of Jews to live in Hebron or for those Arabs who would, if they could, make the whole country Judenrein,” Miriam Weiss replied sharply.

Judenrein of course was the Nazi term used to designate an area that was “cleansed” of Jews during the Holocaust.

It was barely two weeks after our conversation that a Jewish right-wing extremist, who opposed the signing of the Oslo Peace Accords, assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin who had talked of removing some settlers, including those in Hebron. I think it was at that moment, there on Hebron’s streets and talking with Miriam Weiss, that it struck me just how divided Israelis and Palestinians remained despite all the talk of peace since the signing of the Oslo Agreement on September 13, 1993.

Today, Hebron is more bitterly divided than ever before and more Jewish settlers have moved there and elsewhere across the West Bank, ousting Palestinians in the process.

That such forced removals and the settlements that spring up on occupied Palestinian land are often illegal under international law seems to matter little, not least to the administration of US President Donald Trump. This week’s announcement by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that the US no longer considers Israeli settlements to be illegal is nothing short of scandalous.

Since taking office in 2016, Trump has overturned a number of long-held US positions on several of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict’s most contentious issues, but this latest move is beyond the pale.

For whatever Trump and his arrogant lackeys say, the illegality of the settlements couldn’t be clearer. Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, to which both Israel and the United States are signatories, prohibits any occupying power from transferring “parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies”.

Indeed United Nations Security Council resolutions 446, 452, 465, 471 and 2234 have explicitly recognised the application of the Fourth Geneva Convention to Israeli-occupied territories, as does a landmark 2004 decision by the International Court of Justice.

And before anyone thinks that things in the past were that much better before Trump, it’s worth remembering that the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations have all insisted that the question of Israeli settlements is not a legal question as determined by the World Court, the United Nations, or established legal conventions, but by whatever the Israelis and Palestinians agree upon themselves.

But in doing this, of course, they have all failed to recognise the gross inequality in the balance of power between those Palestinians under occupation and the Israeli occupiers of their territory.

Over the many years that I’ve visited and worked as a journalist in the region, Palestinians have watched helplessly as their land slipped out of their hands. Everywhere, their olive, fig, orange groves and vineyards were turned into Jewish settlements to accommodate foreigners who had arrived from the USA, Russia and other far off places to claim what many Palestinians saw as a mythical inheritance.

During all that time international outrage has, of course, periodically flared, but where has been the action needed to accompany it in terms of bringing pressure to bear on the Israelis to put a halt to such moves? Time and again, Washington has dug deep when it comes to propping up Israel’s increasingly right-wing government. Time and again, too, the Trump administration has deliberately undermined dialogue and progress on each of the four contentious issues – Jerusalem, refugees, security, and borders – that lie at the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Serving as primary military, economic, and diplomatic supporter of the Israel occupying power, the US, especially under Trump, has never missed the opportunity to crush the Palestinians and try to kill off any notion of a two-state solution.

Be it cutting off funding to the UN Palestinian refugee agency UNWRA, or moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, the Trump administration has sent an unequivocal message that the Palestinians can effectively go to hell.

The fact that Trump has made this latest move in order to suck up to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and pander to his US

far-right pro-Israel donors and messianic evangelical base is bad enough. But what also really rankles is how the rest of the international community remains almost steadfastly mute over the settlement issue. Yes, sure, it’s all well and good that the 14 other UN Security Council members strongly opposed the US announcement. It’s also good that some European allies of the US, including Britain, reiterated that

“all settlement activity is illegal under international law”.

But such talk will be of little consolation to those Palestinians who need far more in the way of concrete action to prevent them losing their land and homes.

As the headline on an op-ed in the liberal Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz wryly summed it up the other day, “It’s Open Season on Land Theft,” and make no mistake about it, Palestinians are the targets and victims yet again. Put simply Trump’s latest policy change shows the US has abandoned any pretence of being an honest broker in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Not that many believed it ever really intended being that in the first place.