US says new Israeli settlements ‘inconsistent’ with international law

The US and its allies have historically done little to pressure Israel to halt or roll back settlement expansion.

Cars drive past the Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim in the occupied West Bank on the outskirts of Jerusalem, on August 16, 2023
The illegal Israeli settlement of Ma'ale Adumim in the occupied West Bank on the outskirts of Jerusalem, on August 16, 2023 [Ahmad Gharabli/AFP]

The United States has said that new Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories are illegal, effectively reversing a policy by the administration of former President Donald Trump.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said an announcement by Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich that more than 3,300 new Israeli settlements are to be built in the occupied West Bank was “disappointing”.

“It has been a longstanding policy of both Democratic and Republican administrations that new settlements are counterproductive to achieving enduring peace. They are also inconsistent with international law,” Blinken said at a news conference late on Friday in Buenos Aires.

“Our administration maintains firm opposition to settlement expansion. In our judgement it only weakens, not strengthens Israel’s security,” he added, without making any mention of tangible consequences Israel could face for settlement expansion.

This negates the so-called Pompeo Doctrine, which referred to an announcement in November 2019 by then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that Washington supports Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Golan Heights and East Jerusalem as legal.

The majority of the global community views these settlements as illegal and an extension of Israeli occupation.

White House national security spokesperson John Kirby told reporters that Blinken’s position “has been consistent over a range of Republican and Democratic administrations”.

“If there’s an administration that is being inconsistent, it was the previous one,” Kirby said.

The Pompeo Doctrine itself had overturned a legal position held by the US Department of State since 1978 when the administration of former President Jimmy Carter had evaluated Israeli settlements to be in violation of international law.

Germany has also condemned the latest Israeli plans to construct thousands of new settler homes in the occupied West Bank.

“You know our position on settlement construction. It is contrary to international law and this also applies when new construction projects are carried out,” deputy foreign ministry spokeswoman Kathrin Deschauer told a news conference in Berlin.

New settlements

Israel’s Smotrich had announced the new settlement plans were a supposed response to what he called a “terrorist” attack on Thursday, when three Palestinians opened fire near a checkpoint between Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank city of Ma’ale Adumim, killing one Israeli and wounding several others.

Smotrich now plans to build 2,350 new housing units on Palestinian land in Ma’ale Adumim, 300 in Kedar and 694 in Efrat, with backing from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defence Minister Yoav Gallant and Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh on Saturday called the announcement a “blatant challenge to the international community” and an obstacle to establishing an independent Palestinian state.

Israeli settlement watchdog Peace Now said that “Israel’s 2024 budget shows an addition of over $100m to settlements”.

“In 2024, coalition funds for settlements will amount to over $203m [instead of the originally allocated $76m in the government decision from May 2023],” it added.

Ministers in the most far-right administration in the history of Israel have also called for increased curbs on Palestinians, including heavy restrictions on movement, after the attack.

Over decades, Israel has advanced plans to build new illegal settlements regardless of any attacks. The US and its allies have historically done little to pressure Israel to halt or roll back settlement expansion.

Raids across Palestinian territories occupied by Israel had become an almost daily occurrence even before the war on Gaza started on October 7, and they have only significantly intensified since, growing deadlier as well.

In the Gaza Strip, more than 29,500 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli attacks since the start of the war, most of them children and women.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies