Antony Blinken and Joe Biden

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken looks on as President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on November 21, 2023 in Washington, D.C.

(Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Blinken Calls Israeli Settlements 'Inconsistent With International Law.' Critics: So Is Genocide

"For consistency's sake, the Biden admin now also needs to end weapons transfers to Israel," said one analyst.

The Biden administration on Friday reversed a Trump-era policy shift known as the Pompeo Doctrine, under which the U.S. no longer officially viewed Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Golan Heights, and East Jerusalem as "inconsistent with international law."

Experts and Palestinian rights advocates welcomed the return to the longstanding U.S. position on settlements but said it was overdue and ultimately amounted to very little in the face of the Biden administration's ongoing military and diplomatic support for Israel's catastrophic war on Gaza.

Josh Ruebner, an adjunct lecturer at Georgetown University and former policy director of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, said the Biden administration's decision "is good news" but added that he's "not sure why it took... three years."

"Genocide is also inconsistent with international law," Ruebner added. "So for consistency's sake, the Biden admin now also needs to end weapons transfers to Israel and demand Israel comply with [the International Court of Justice's] provisional measures."

Following the ICJ's interim ruling last month that Israel is plausibly committing genocide in Gaza, a White House spokesperson told reporters that there's "no indication" that Israel's government is engaged in genocidal acts, despite the overt statements of top Israeli officials and actions of the nation's soldiers.

Trita Parsi, executive vice president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, said Friday that the settlement move is "potentially very good" but also "perplexing," given that the Biden administration defended Israel's occupation of Palestinian territory during an ICJ hearing earlier this week.

The Biden administration's formal recognition that Israeli settlements run counter to international law came after Bezalel Smotrich, the country's far-right finance minister, announced that Israel plans to build more than 3,300 new homes in West Bank settlements.

In response to the announcement, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that "Republican and Democratic administrations alike" have seen the construction of new settlements as "counter-productive to reaching an enduring peace."

"They're also inconsistent with international law," said Blinken. "Our administration maintains a firm opposition to settlement expansion and in our judgment this only weakens, it doesn't strengthen, Israel's security."

As Axiosnoted Friday, the Pompeo Doctrine "was a major shift in U.S. policy because it overturned a legal position held by the U.S. State Department since 1978, when the Carter administration determined that the settlements were a violation of international law"—a view also held by most of the international community.

Critics lamented that it took over three years and a massive Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip for the Biden State Department to walk back the Trump administration's outlier position on settlements.

Earlier this week, an attorney from the U.S. State Department told the ICJ that it should not issue an opinion stating that "Israel is legally obligated to immediately and unconditionally withdraw from occupied territory."

As U.S./Middle East Project president Daniel Levy observed in an analysis of the State Department attorney's presentation, "The U.S. testimony conspicuously refused to reassert the illegality of Israel's settlements—one of the central questions the court has already ruled on and on which there is near total international unanimity."

"The U.S. position was essentially to endorse the notion of permanent belligerent occupation," Levy wrote. "It talked about conditions for withdrawal, but of course its own policies prevent the most important condition for that withdrawal, namely the U.S. guaranteeing Israeli impunity and avoidance of costs or consequences for Israel's continued illegal actions. The [U.S. government] therefore ends up defending and owning Israel's ongoing drift toward ever-greater extremism."

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