US House speaker slams Biden admin for restoring policy against Israeli settlements

Mike Johnson says decision an ‘absolute disgrace,’ calls to ‘stop undermining Israel’ as it ‘fights terrorists on multiple fronts’

US President Joe Biden, shakes hands with House Speaker Mike Johnson, joined at left by House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, at the conclusion of the National Prayer Breakfast, February 1, 2024, at the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
US President Joe Biden, shakes hands with House Speaker Mike Johnson, joined at left by House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, at the conclusion of the National Prayer Breakfast, February 1, 2024, at the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

US Speaker of the House Mike Johnson blasted the Biden administration’s decision to restore a former US policy that considers settlements inconsistent with international law after it had been altered by the previous administration.

“The Jewish people have a historic and legal right to live in the land of Israel including in Judea and Samaria – the Biblical heartland,” the Republican speaker wrote on X on Saturday.

“It is an absolute disgrace the Biden administration would issue this decision, especially as Israel fights terrorists on multiple fronts that seek Israel’s destruction and as more than 130 hostages remain in Gaza,” he continued. “The Biden Administration must stop undermining Israel and facilitating efforts to delegitimize Israel. It is misguided and unconscionable.”

Speaking about the decision on Friday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken characterized settlements as “inconsistent with international law,” effectively revoking what became known as the “Pompeo doctrine,” which deemed settlements “not per se inconsistent with international law.”

The 2019 policy implemented by Trump’s secretary of state Mike Pompeo rejected views held for decades by administrations from both parties that maintained varying degrees of adversarial relationships with West Bank settlements. The Pompeo policy — for the first time — saw the US take a neutral, if not supportive, view of Israel’s presence beyond the Green Line.

Blinken’s remarks restored the validity of a 1978 State Department memo that viewed settlements as illegal, a US official told The Times of Israel earlier this week, adding that a more formal step wasn’t required because Pompeo’s policy was merely announced in a statement akin to the one made Friday by his successor. The new Biden policy is also consistent with that of former president Barack Obama, who allowed a UN Security Council resolution to pass in 2016 that also deemed settlements to be illegal under international law.

“It’s been longstanding US policy under Republican and Democratic administrations alike that new settlements are counterproductive to reaching an enduring peace,” Blinken noted on Friday. “Our administration maintains firm opposition to settlement expansion and in our judgment, this only weakens — doesn’t strengthen — Israel’s security,” Blinken added.

Blinken’s remarks came hours after Israel announced a plan to advance the construction of thousands of new settlement homes in response to a terror shooting in the West Bank.

Late Thursday, hours after a deadly terror shooting near the Ma’ale Adumim settlement, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich announced that Israel will advance plans for the construction of more than 3,000 settlement homes in response to the attack in which three Palestinian gunmen opened fire near a checkpoint between Jerusalem and Ma’ale Adumim, killing an Israeli man and wounding 11 others.

Smotrich said in a statement that the decision to advance plans for 2,350 new housing units in Ma’ale Adumim, 300 in Keidar and 694 in Efrat was made during a meeting he held with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer. It was the latest demonstration of the influence that the far-right minister holds in Netanyahu’s government, as the premier continues to rely on the support of his Orthodox coalition partners to remain in power.

A housing project under construction is seen in the West Bank Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim on June 26, 2023. (AP/Ohad Zwigenberg)

In what may have been an attempt to soften the response from Washington, the three settlements that the top Israeli ministers earmarked for construction — Ma’ale Adumim, Efrat and Keidar — are all located west of the West Bank security barrier, in areas perceived to enjoy more consensus Israeli support, as opposed to more isolated settlements dozens of kilometers east of the Green Line.

But the swift nature in which the US moved with Friday’s announcement highlighted Washington’s ever-shrinking patience with Israel’s policy in the West Bank, as the administration continues to come under fire from progressives at home and many allies abroad over its broad support for Israel in the war against Hamas, triggered by the terror group’s October 7 massacre.

Despite pressure from progressive pro-Israel organizations, the Biden administration had held off for over three years in revoking the Pompeo doctrine, as it avoided moves seen as overly confrontational with Jerusalem.

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