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Biden administration reinstates US policy calling Israeli settlements 'illegitimate' under international law

Biden administration reinstates US policy calling Israeli settlements 'illegitimate' under international law

 


WASHINGTON (AP) The Biden administration on Friday reinstated a nearly 50-year-old U.S. legal finding that Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories are illegitimate under international law.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States believes the settlements are inconsistent with Israel's obligations, reversing a decision made by his predecessor, Mike Pompeo, in the Biden administration's latest shift in relation to the pro-Israel policies pursued by former President Donald Trump.

Blinkens' comments came in response to a reporter's question about an announcement that Israel would build more than 3,300 new homes in West Bank settlements in response to a deadly Palestinian shooting.

READ MORE: Israeli Finance Minister Calls for Restoration of Israeli Settlements in Gaza

It is unclear why Blinken chose this moment, more than three years into his term, to reverse Pompeo's decision. But it came at a time of growing tensions between the United States and Israel over the war in Gaza, with the latest settlement announcement only adding to the tension. It also comes as the United Nations' highest court, the International Court of Justice, holds hearings on the legality of the Israeli occupation.

Biden administration officials did not call Blinkens' comments a reversal, but only because they say Pompeo's determination was never officially released. Biden administration lawyers concluded that Pompeo's determination was only his opinion and was not legally binding, according to two administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private discussions.

But officially or not, Pompeo's November 2019 announcement was widely accepted as U.S. policy and was not publicly repudiated until Blinken spoke on Friday.

Speaking in Argentina's capital Buenos Aires, Blinken said the United States was disappointed to learn of the new settlement plan announced by far-right Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich after three Palestinian gunmen opened fire on cars near the settlement of Maale Adumim, killing one Israeli and wounding five.

Blinken condemned the attack but said the United States was opposed to settlement expansion and made clear that Washington would once again respect the Carter administration's legal findings that determined settlements were not consistent with international law.

WATCH: Blinken says Israeli settlement expansion an obstacle to the horizon of hope

“Long-standing U.S. policy, under both Republican and Democratic administrations, is that new settlements are counterproductive to achieving lasting peace,” he said during his press conference with the Argentine Minister of Foreign Affairs. Foreign Affairs Diana Mondino.

They are also incompatible with international law. Our administration maintains strong opposition to settlement expansion and, in our view, it only weakens, but does not strengthen, Israel's security, Blinken said.

For decades, U.S. settlement policy was guided by the 1978 decision known as the Hansell Memorandum, written by Herbert Hansell, then legal counsel to the State Department. Hansell's conclusions did not say that the colonies were illegal but rather illegitimate. Nevertheless, this memorandum shaped decades of American policy on the issue.

Pompeo rejected the policy in November 2019. The Biden administration had long considered reimplementing it as it sought to adjust its Middle East strategy. These deliberations have gained momentum as Israel's response to the October 7 Hamas attacks has drawn increasingly intense international criticism.

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