Live updates on Israel-Hamas war: Netanyahu details his vision for post-war Gaza

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said Friday that the U.S. government now considers new Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories “inconsistent with international law,” marking a reversal of a policy established under the Trump administration and a return to a decades-long policy. United States position on the controversial issue.

Blinken spoke at a news conference in Buenos Aires, after Israel’s Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich made an announcement on Thursday indicating that thousands of new residences would be added to the settlements. Blinken said he was “disappointed” by the announcement.

“It has been a long-standing policy of the United States, under both Republican and Democratic administrations, that new settlements are counterproductive to achieving lasting peace,” he said. “They are incompatible with international law. Our administration maintains strong opposition to settlement expansion. And in our view, this only weakens, not strengthens, Israel’s security.”

Blinken was in Argentina to meet with the newly elected president, Javier Milei, and Foreign Minister Diana Mondino.

In Washington, White House spokesman John F. Kirby reiterated that position in comments to reporters. “This is a position that has been consistent across a variety of Republican and Democratic administrations; if there is one administration that is being inconsistent, it is the previous one,” he said.

State Department officials declined to say what actions, if any, the United States might take to hold Israeli settlers or the government legally responsible for building new settlements.

For many years, settlements have proliferated in the West Bank, the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territory, without any legal action by the United States. Some 500,000 residents now live in the occupied West Bank and more than 200,000 in East Jerusalem.

In November 2019, President Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reversed four decades of US policy by saying the settlements did not violate international law. State Department lawyers never issued a new legal determination supporting that policy change, and Blinken’s return to the old policy is consistent with a long-standing legal conclusion from the department.

Beginning in 2021, when President Biden took office, diplomatic reporters asked State Department officials whether Blinken planned to reverse Pompeo’s move, but officials said each time there was no change in policy.

Some State Department officials were made uncomfortable last year by a sharp rise in violence committed by extremist settlers. After the October 7 attacks by Hamas, violence increased in the West Bank and Biden and Blinken began to denounce the actions and settlement expansion.

On Friday afternoon, Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street, a liberal American Jewish advocacy group trying to shape policy on Israel, praised Blinken’s announcement.

“Now, the administration must make clear that, particularly in light of the volatility of the current situation between Israelis and Palestinians, there should be no further expansion of the settlement enterprise,” he said in a statement. He added that the Biden administration should demonstrate that it “will take further steps to enforce its view, and that of the international community, that the creeping annexation of the West Bank must stop.”

Pompeo’s move in 2019 bolstered the position of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, who had promised during two elections that year to annex the West Bank. Netanyahu’s new ruling coalition has several far-right ministers who support that direction, and it is those politicians who have helped Netanyahu stay in power despite widespread criticism of him for his failure to protect Israel from attacks. on October 7. Hamas and its measures to undermine the power of the judiciary.

On Thursday night, the office of one of those ministers, Mr. Smotrich, announced that an existing Israeli planning committee overseeing construction in the West Bank would be convened.

He said the committee would move forward with plans for more than 3,000 housing units, most of them in Ma’ale Adumim, near the site of a Palestinian shooting attack earlier that day. Mr. Smotrich’s office described the expansion of the settlement as an “appropriate Zionist response” to the attack.

“Let every terrorist who plots to harm us know that raising a hand against the citizens of Israel will be met with death, destruction, and the deepening of our eternal control over the entire Land of Israel,” Smotrich said in a statement.

Smotrich’s office did not say when the committee would convene, whether the housing units would be new homes or what stage of the planning process they were in.

Blinken also said he would refrain from judging the post-war plan for Gaza that Netanyahu had begun circulating among Israeli officials. Blinken said any plan must align with three principles: Gaza must not be a base for terrorism; the Israeli government should not reoccupy Gaza; and the size of the Gaza territory should not be reduced.

“There are certain basic principles that we established many months ago,” he said, referring to the outcome of a diplomatic conclave in Tokyo, “that we consider very important when it comes to the future of Gaza.”

Aaron Boxerman contributed reporting from Jerusalem.

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