newsU.S.-Israel Relations

Blinken’s reversal of ‘Pompeo doctrine’ all about politics, experts say

"The timing shows that this is very much about the upcoming elections," professor Eugene Kontorovich tells JNS.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on a phone call with U.S. officials, including the president, about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s strategy against Hamas on Oct. 11, 2023, in the Oval Office. Credit: Adam Schultz/White House.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on a phone call with U.S. officials, including the president, about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s strategy against Hamas on Oct. 11, 2023, in the Oval Office. Credit: Adam Schultz/White House.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Nov. 23 appeared to reverse the Trump administration’s “Pompeo doctrine,” which stated that civilian Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria were not necessarily illegal according to international law.

Speaking at a press conference in Argentina, Blinken said that the Biden administration was “disappointed” with Israel’s move to greenlight 3,000 housing units in Judea and Samaria following Thursday’s deadly terrorist shooting on Highway 1. One Israeli was killed and at least six others were wounded in the attack, including a pregnant woman.

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

U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) on Saturday slammed the reversal as an “absolute disgrace.” 

Blinken’s comments fly in the face of a Nov. 18, 2019 policy briefing by Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in which he stated “the Trump administration is reversing the Obama administration’s approach towards Israeli settlements.” He added: “The establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not per se inconsistent with international law.”

Some consider those remarks, which came to be known as the “Pompeo doctrine,” to be the most significant of all the Trump administration’s Israel policies.

Prof. Eugene Kontorovich, director of international law at the Jerusalem-based Kohelet Policy Forum and of the Scalia Law School’s Center for the Middle East and International Law at George Mason University in Washington, briefed Pompeo before the announcement of his doctrine.

“The fact that the Biden administration didn’t consider Israeli settlements illegal for over three years, and only came to that conclusion after Hamas invaded, raped and massacred Israelis, shows that this is not really about law, or legal arguments, but about brute force,” Kontorovich told JNS. “They are succumbing to Hamas’s brute force, and the brute force of the pro-Hamas protesters in the United States.”  

What’s more important than the actual reversal itself, he added, “is the signal about the increasingly pro-Hamas line of the administration.” 

Kontorovich concluded by saying there was no doubt Blinken’s reversal was political. 

“The timing shows that this is very much about the upcoming elections. This is a position that wasn’t adopted by presidents Obama or Clinton during their time in office and indeed has never been the position of the United States since before President Reagan,” he said.

Pompeo had explained in his 2019 remarks that, “In 1978, the Carter administration categorically concluded that Israel’s establishment of civilian settlements was inconsistent with international law. However, in 1981, President Reagan disagreed with that conclusion and stated that he didn’t believe that the settlements were inherently illegal. … After carefully studying all sides of the legal debate, this administration agrees with President Reagan.”

Religious Zionist Party Knesset member Ohad Tal told JNS he agreed that Blinken’s about-face was political.

“Judea and Samaria are the historic heartland and the cradle of Jewish civilization. This is the simple truth. The secretary of state’s attempt to deny this simple truth in order to serve internal political interests, and more so while Israel is at war, is a slap in the face to America’s closest ally in the Middle East,” he said.

Israel Ganz, who heads the Binyamin Regional Council, recalled fondly to JNS how in November 2020, Pompeo became the first sitting secretary of state to visit Judea and Samaria, as he toured the Psagot winery within his municipality. The winery named a wine after him to thank him for his stance on Jewish communities in the region. 

“Unfortunately the current secretary of state and the administration in Washington is stuck in the false narrative that Jews are somehow occupiers in their own land,” said Ganz. “In reality, it is the most natural thing in the world for a Jew to live in Judea, in the land of our ancestors,” he added. 

“In terms of international law, we know that from the end of World War I, these areas were always supposed to be part of a Jewish state. So, it is indeed our legal right to live in all places throughout Israel,” he said. “Imagine if it was illegal for a Jew to live in Shiloh, Pennsylvania? That would never happen. So certainly, Jews should be able to live in Shiloh, Israel, where our roots go back thousands of years.”  

Beyond politics and security, said Ganz, “The truth is clear; Israel is the rightful proprietor here in the heartland of the State of Israel.”  

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