U.S. says Israel’s new settlements in West Bank “inconsistent” with international law

The Biden administration on Friday said Israel’s expansion of settlements in the occupied West Bank are inconsistent with international law, signaling a return to long-standing U.S. policy on the issue, which had been reversed by the previous administration of Donald Trump.

Speaking at a news conference during a trip to Buenos Aires, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States was “disappointed” in Israel’s announcement of plans for building new housing in the occupied West Bank, saying they were counterproductive to reaching an enduring peace.

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

In November 2019, Trump’s then secretary of state Mike Pompeo announced that Washington no longer viewed Israel’s settlements on West Bank land it captured in the 1967 Middle East war as “inconsistent with international law”, a reversal of four decades of U.S. policy.

Months later in January 2020, the Trump administration announced a peace plan for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which was embraced by Israel and rejected by the Palestinians, partly because it awarded Israel most of what it has sought during decades of conflict, including nearly all the occupied land on which it has built settlements.

The Biden administration has repeatedly said the further expansion of settlements were counterproductive to lasting peace but Friday was the first time that a U.S. official said they were inconsistent with international law.

The move comes a day after Israel’s far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other ministers had agreed to convene a planning council to approve some 3,300 homes to be built in settlements, following a deadly Palestinian shooting attack in the West Bank on Thursday.

Most of the units under discussion are in West Bank areas east of Jerusalem, with others south of the Palestinian town of Bethlehem, Smotrich said on Thursday.

The Palestinian foreign ministry condemned the Israeli settlement announcement, saying on social media that it undermined the chances of a two-state solution.

Most countries regard the settlements, which in many areas cut Palestinian communities off from each other, as a violation of international law. Israel claims a biblical birthright to the land.

In a briefing with reporters, White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said the Biden administration was “simply reaffirming the fundamental conclusion” on the issue.

“That is a position that’s 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.

Palestinians and the international community view the transfer of any country’s civilians to occupied land as illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 and U.N. Security Council resolutions. Many countries condemned the announcement.

Little progress has been made on achieving Palestinian statehood since the signing of the Oslo Accords in the early 1990s. Among the obstacles impeding it are expanding Israeli settlements in territories Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

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