WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden On Friday, the Trump administration reinstated a nearly 50-year-old American legal conclusion that Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories are “illegitimate” under international law.

Secretary of state Antonio Blinken said the United States believes settlements are incompatible with Israel’s obligations, reversing a determination made by his predecessor, Mike Pompeo, in the Biden administration’s latest pivot away from pro-Israel policies pursued by former President Donald Trump.

Blinken’s comments came in response to a journalist’s question about the announcement that Israel would build more than 3,300 new homes in West Bank settlements in response to a fatal Palestinian attack.

It was unclear why Blinken chose this moment, more than three years into his term, to reverse Pompeo’s decision. But it came at a time of rising tensions between the United States and Israel over the war in Gaza, and the latest settlement announcement only increased the tension. It also came as the United Nations’ highest court, the International Court of Justice, is holding hearings on the legality of the Israeli occupation.

Biden administration officials did not consider Blinken’s comments a reversal, but only because they say Pompeo’s determination was never formally issued. Biden administration lawyers concluded that Pompeo’s determination was simply his opinion and was not legally binding, according to two administration officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private discussions.

But whether formally issued or not, Pompeo’s announcement in November 2019 was widely accepted as US policy and had not been publicly repudiated until Blinken spoke on Friday.

Speaking in Buenos Aires, the Argentine capital, Blinken said the United States was “disappointed” to learn of the new settlement plan announced by Israel’s far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich after three Palestinian gunmen opened fire on cars near the settlement of Maale Adumim. , killing one Israeli and wounding five.

Blinken condemned the attack but said the United States opposes settlement expansion and made clear that Washington would once again abide by the Carter administration-era legal conclusion that certain settlements were not consistent with international law.

“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 in his press conference with Argentine Foreign Minister Diana Mondino.

“They are also 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 said.

For decades, U.S. settlement policy was guided by the 1978 determination known as the “Hansell Memorandum,” drafted by then-State Department legal counsel Herbert Hansell. Hansell’s finding did not say that the settlements were “illegal” but rather “illegitimate.” Nevertheless, that memo shaped decades of American policy on the issue.

Pompeo repudiated that policy in November 2019. The Biden administration had long considered reimplementing it as it sought to adjust its Middle East strategy. Those deliberations had gained momentum as Israel’s response to the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks drew increasingly intense international criticism.

By Sam