newsU.S.-Israel Relations

Blinken: New Israeli housing units ‘inconsistent with international law’

“For Blinken to announce this in the middle of a war and when the Jewish Sabbath already has begun in Israel is unconscionable,” said David Friedman, former U.S. ambassador to Israel.

Antony Blinken, the U.S. secretary of state, addresses the press in Jerusalem on Feb. 7, 2024. Credit: Chuck Kennedy/U.S. State Department.
Antony Blinken, the U.S. secretary of state, addresses the press in Jerusalem on Feb. 7, 2024. Credit: Chuck Kennedy/U.S. State Department.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Friday that Israel’s approval of 3,000 new housing units in Judea—announced after one Israeli was killed and six wounded in a terrorist attack near Jerusalem—is “contrary to international law.”

That declaration is an apparent reversal of the Trump administration’s “Pompeo doctrine,” which held that “the establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not per se inconsistent with international law.”

Blinken spoke at a press conference in Argentina on Friday, offering condolences to the victims of the “horrific terrorist attack” in Ma’ale Adumin before adding that the Biden administration is “disappointed” in the approval of the new housing units.

“It’s been long-standing U.S. policy, under Republican and Democratic administrations alike, that new settlements are counterproductive to reaching an enduring peace,” Blinken said. “They’re also inconsistent with international law.”

“Our administration maintains a firm opposition to settlement expansion, and in our judgment, this only weakens—it doesn’t strengthen—Israel’s security,” he added.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in 2019 that the Trump administration was reversing an Obama-administration policy of describing Israeli “settlements” as inherently illegal under international law.

“The legal conclusions relating to individual settlements must depend on an assessment of specific facts and circumstances on the ground,” Pompeo said at the time.

Until Friday, the Biden administration had continued using that formula, issuing statements with language indicating that it is “deeply troubled” by Israeli “settlement” expansion, or noting that a particular “settlement” was illegal under Israeli law, without saying that all such expansions are violations of international law.

Asked in a Friday press briefing about the apparent reversal, John Kirby, White House national security communications advisor, said that Blinken’s statement was a return to a consistent U.S. position on the housing units.

“This isn’t about the previous administration,” Kirby said. “We are simply reaffirming the fundamental conclusion that these settlements are inconsistent with international law.”

“That is a position that’s been consistent over a range of Republican and Democratic administrations,” Kirby added. “If there’s an administration that is being inconsistent, it was the previous one.”

Pompeo and other former Trump administration officials condemned the apparent policy change.

“Judea and Samaria are rightful parts of the Jewish homeland, and Israelis have a right to live there,” Pompeo wrote. “President Biden’s decision to overturn our policy and call Israeli ‘settlements’ illegal will not further the cause of peace. It rewards Hamas for its brutal attacks on Oct. 7 and punishes Israel instead. These Israeli communities are not standing in the way of peace; militant Palestinian terrorism is.”

David Friedman, former U.S. ambassador to Israel, called Blinken’s decision “100% wrong.”

Friedman and “many” U.S. State Department lawyers researched the issue for a year before making the announcement, he wrote. He also questioned the timing of the announcement.

“For Blinken to announce this in the middle of a war and when the Jewish Sabbath already has begun in Israel is unconscionable,” he wrote.

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