We were both dismayed and confused by the reaction of the Biden administration to Israel’s announcement that it would be advancing plans for 3,000 new homes in the West Bank. On the other hand, it is all too clear that Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s widely reported reference to them as being “inconsistent with international law” marked the latest escalation of tensions between the two allies.

Thus, as reported by the Jerusalem Post, Secretary Blinken said at a press conference,

We’re disappointed in the announcement. It’s been longstanding U.S. policy under Republican and Democratic administrations alike that new settlements are 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 – it doesn’t strengthen – Israel’s security.


We’re frankly puzzled by the seemingly limiting references to the counter productivity of “new settlements” and the Biden administration’s “firm opposition to settlement expansion.” In fact, the Blinken comments came almost immediately after Israel’s announcement of new construction which itself was billed by Israel as its response to a serious Palestinian terror attack near Maaleh Adumim, killing an Israeli man and wounding 11 others. So, was the Blinken comment tempered by some veiled commiseration? Or does it go deeper than that. Or are we reading too much into what Sec. Blinken had to say?

Parenthetically, it will be recalled that President Trump revised the theretofore U.S. position on settlements as contained in a 1978 memo by a State Department legal adviser which characterized settlement as illegal. Trump Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced a reversal of that policy stating that “the establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West bank is not per se inconsistent with international law.” That policy became known as the Pompeo Doctrine.

According to the Baker Institute, the debate centers on varying interpretation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states that an occupying power “shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” Much of the international community has it that this applies to Israel which is therefore barred from building settlements in the West Bank to house its citizens.

Israel contends, however, that voluntary settlers are not covered by this language. Indeed, Morris Abram, U.S. Ambassador to the UN in Geneva and one of the drafters of the GCIV, has explained that this provision was a response to Nazi Germany’s coercive eviction of German Jews to occupied territories for the purpose of mass extermination in death camps.

But, appearances aside, is the Biden team railing against all settlements, including the existing ones, or only new ones – that is, ones that will embarrass President Biden, who is under pressure from progressives at home and many allies abroad over his support for Israel in the war against Hamas. We can’t forget that it was not too long ago that there seemed to be an expectation that Israel would end up keeping settlements with large numbers of Jewish residents. So, the question is a significant one.

It is also hard to understand some of the President’s other emerging positions. He is plainly trying to promote ever longer temporary truces and discourage Prime Minister Netanyahu from invading Rafah out of a concern for Palestinian civilians. He has even proposed a UN Security Council Resolution – to be sure, not yet filed – opposing an Israeli invasion of Rafah. But does that mean he is entertaining the idea of allowing the leadership of Hamas and its remaining military to escape?

Is the President also prepared to reward Hamas for coming up with the practice of using human shields in combat or of trafficking in human beings as bargaining chips? If there is a truce of any duration, what incentive would Hamas have to release any hostages?

There is also the mounting pressure the President is directing Prime Minister Netanyahu’s way regarding what a post-war Gaza should look like.

We hope Mr. Biden keeps in mind the looming threats of Iran, Hezbollah, the Houthis and Hamas’s own demonstrated capacity for savagery.

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