US reverses Trump-era policy on Israeli settlement expansion

The Biden administration said Friday that Israel’s plans to promote the construction of thousands of homes in West Bank settlements violate international law, reversing a key 2019 Trump administration policy.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke out against Israeli plans to move forward with the construction of 3,000 settlements at the G20 meeting in Brazil.

The secretary’s statement essentially reverses the 2019 “Pompeo Doctrine,” a policy change announced by former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, which declared Israeli settlements not “per se” contrary to international law.

Pompeo’s action allowed the US to engage diplomatically and economically with Israeli communities in the West Bank under Israeli control, even though their sovereignty is not recognized by the broader international community. The majority of the international community says the final borders of that territory should be determined during negotiations to establish a Palestinian state.

John Kirby, the White House national security communications adviser, said the administration’s view that settlements violate international law was a continuation of longstanding U.S. policy in the Republican and Democratic administrations, describing the Trump policy as an aberration.

This is not about the previous government. We simply affirm the fundamental conclusion that these settlements violate international law,” Kirby said.

“That’s a position that has been consistent across a series of Republican and Democratic administrations. If any government has been inconsistent, it was the previous one.”

Kirby said the administration is “disappointed” in Israel’s announcement on the settlements, which the US says will harm efforts to achieve a two-state solution and establish a Palestinian state.

The administration’s response marks a new point of tension with the Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, even as President Biden has remained steadfast in his support for Israel in pursuing a war against Hamas in Gaza after the October 7 attack.

Although the government has been reluctant to call on Israel to implement a ceasefire, it has increasingly publicly criticized Israel’s conduct in the war. It recently warned Israel of an invasion of Rafah, where more than a million Palestinians have fled the war, without a plan to evacuate the area.

Biden has also taken unprecedented steps by imposing sanctions on Israelis determined to commit violence against Palestinians in the West Bank.

But the government’s criticisms, concerns and actions do not appear to influence Netanyahu’s decision-making.

This includes Netanyahu’s public rejection of a Palestinian state, pushing back on temporary ceasefire negotiations with Hamas to release Israeli hostages held in Gaza, blocking food deliveries at Israeli ports from being transferred to Gaza , and the expansion of settlements in the West Bank.

Kirby pushed back on questions about the limits of the government’s influence during a briefing with reporters.

“I reject the premise that we are talking to a brick wall. We are talking to a friend and a friend is not going to agree with everything you have to say,” he said.

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