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Blinken: New Israeli Settlements Are ‘Inconsistent With International Law’

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said the United States considers the building of Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories illegal and “counterproductive to reaching an enduring peace.”

On settlements, we’ve seen the reports and I have to say 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 — doesn’t strengthen — Israel’s security.

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Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said the United States considers the building of Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories illegal and “counterproductive to reaching an enduring peace.”CreditCredit…Juan Mabromata/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

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

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

“It’s been longstanding U.S. policy under Republican and Democratic administrations alike that new settlements are counterproductive to reaching enduring peace,” he said. “They’re inconsistent with international law. Our administration maintains firm opposition to settlement expansion. And in our judgment, this only weakens — it doesn’t strengthen — Israel’s security.”

Mr. Blinken was in Argentina for meetings with the recently elected president, Javier Milei, and the foreign minister, Diana Mondino.

In Washington, John F. Kirby, a White House spokesman, reiterated that stance in comments to reporters. “This is a position that has been consistent over a range of Republican and Democratic administrations — if there’s an administration that is being inconsistent, it was 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 accountable for the building of new settlements.

Over many years, settlements have proliferated across the West Bank, Palestinian territory that is occupied by Israel, without the United States pushing for any legal action. About 500,000 residents now live in the occupied West Bank and more than 200,000 in East Jerusalem.


New housing projects last year in Givat Ze’ev, an Israeli settlement in the West Bank. The Biden administration has restored a U.S. policy dating back nearly 50 years that deems Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories “illegitimate” under international law.Credit…Ohad Zwigenberg/Associated Press

In November 2019, President Trump’s secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, reversed four decades of U.S. policy by saying that settlements did not violate international law. State Department lawyers never issued a new legal determination that buttressed that policy change, and Mr. Blinken’s shift back to the old policy is consistent with a longstanding legal finding of the department.

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

Some State Department officials had grown uneasy last year over the sharp surge in acts of violence by extremist settlers. After the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas, violence increased in the West Bank, and Mr. Biden and Mr. Blinken began denouncing the actions and the expansion of settlements.

On Friday afternoon, Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of J Street, a liberal Jewish American advocacy group that tries to shape policy on Israel, praised Mr. 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 must be no further expansion of the settlement enterprise,” he said in a statement. He added that the Biden administration should show it “will take further steps to enforce its view — and the view of the international community — that the creeping annexation of the West Bank must stop.”

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

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

He said the committee would move ahead 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 same day. Mr. Smotrich’s office described the expansion of the settlement as an “appropriate Zionist response” to the attack.

“Let every terrorist plotting 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 grip on the entire Land of Israel,” Mr. Smotrich said in a statement.

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

Mr. Blinken also said he would withhold judgment on the postwar plan for Gaza that Mr. Netanyahu had begun to circulate among Israeli officials. Mr. Blinken said any plan has to align with three principles: Gaza should not be a base for terrorism; the Israeli government should not reoccupy Gaza; and the size of Gaza’s territory should not be reduced.

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

Aaron Boxerman contributed reporting from Jerusalem.

Edward Wong Reporting from Buenos Aires, while traveling across South America with U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken


Israeli soldiers patrolling the central Gaza Strip, photographed during an escorted tour by the Israeli military early this month.Credit…Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

United Nations human rights experts on Friday urged countries to stop transferring arms or ammunition to Israel that it might use in Gaza on the grounds that they could be deployed to commit war crimes.

More than 30 U.N. human rights monitors signed onto a statement issued on Friday asserting that Israel’s military operations in Gaza had repeatedly violated international law and that states were obligated under international law to halt arms transfers if evidence suggested they might be used to commit war crimes.

“Such transfers are prohibited even if the exporting State does not intend the arms to be used in violation of the law — or does not know with certainty that they would be used in such a way — as long as there is a clear risk,” the statement said.

Israel has rejected allegations that it has committed war crimes in the operations it launched in Gaza after the Hamas-led attack on Oct. 7. It maintains it has tried to warn civilians in advance to leave areas being attacked and has targeted only civilian buildings being used by Hamas for military purposes.

But Israel has faced growing international condemnation for the tens of thousands of civilians, most of them women and children, who Gazan health officials say have been killed or injured since it began its invasion of Gaza in October.

Human rights experts have said that Israel’s use of powerful, imprecise bombs with a wide blast range in densely populated areas amounts to an indiscriminate and disproportionate attack on civilians that cannot be justified by military necessity under international law.

Hamas, the armed group that once controlled Gaza, is also accused of committing atrocities against Israeli civilians during cross-border attacks on Oct. 7. Israeli officials say Hamas-led raiders killed 1,200 people and took 250 hostage.

Multiple news organizations have reported allegations of sexual violence during the attack, and The New York Times in late December published a monthslong investigation that included accounts from several eyewitnesses who said they saw women being sexually assaulted and killed.

A report released by the U.N.’s human rights chief, Volker Türk, later on Friday found that all parties in the conflict had committed “clear violations of international humanitarian law, including possible war crimes.”

He urged governments to use their influence to stop, and not to enable, violations of international law, and also called for an independent investigation to determine other potential violations of international law.

The experts called for Israel’s leading arms suppliers, the United States and Germany, to halt military aid, along with Britain, France, Canada and Australia. Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain have already decided to suspend arms transfers to Israel.

The United States supplies the most military aid to Israel, more than $3 billion, which accounts for about two-thirds of Israel’s arms imports.

It also maintains large weapons stockpiles in Israel, which the United States has allowed the Israeli military to draw from.

President Biden has shown no sign of changing course despite recently characterizing Israel’s military response in Gaza as “over the top” and receiving sharp criticism from within his administration and skepticism from allies in Europe.

Asked about the U.N. experts’ recommendations, a State Department spokesperson said the United States supported Israel’s right to self-defense and that U.S. officials had made clear that Israel must comply with international humanitarian law, including taking steps to minimize harm to civilians.

Earlier this month, the European Union’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell Fontelles, responded to President Biden’s stated concern over the immense civilian suffering, saying that “if you believe that too many people are being killed, maybe you should provide less arms.”

His comments echoed wider European calls for a halt to arms sales to Israel. A Dutch court this month ordered the Netherlands to block shipments to Israel of F-35 jet fighter parts from American-owned warehouses. Judges rejected the government’s argument that the aircraft were essential for Israel’s security and said there was a “clear risk the exported F-35 parts are used in serious violations of international humanitarian law.”

Britain continues to allow arms sales to Israel, one of its close allies, but is under pressure to change its policy as a signatory of the Arms Trade Treaty, which says that states should not supply arms that might be used to commit genocide or crimes against humanity.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, according to documents produced in court proceedings earlier this year, was unable to conclude that Israeli operations in Gaza complied with international humanitarian law, and British government ministers have warned Israel against an assault on Rafah.

Adam Sella contributed reporting.

Nick Cumming-Bruce reporting from Geneva




At least one missile struck the Rubymar on Monday night.Credit…Planet Labs PBC, via Associated Press

A cargo ship damaged by a Houthi missile and abandoned in the Red Sea is slowly taking on water, the U.S. military said early Saturday, warning that its sinking could be environmentally disastrous because of a large load of fertilizer it was carrying.

The operator of the vessel, called the Rubymar, said the partly submerged ship was still afloat and would soon be towed to Djibouti or Aden, a port city in Yemen. Its remaining cargo would be transferred to another ship and sent to Bulgaria, said Roy Khoury, the head of the ship’s operator, Blue Fleet Group. The ship’s engine room and one of its holding compartments are underwater, he said.

The U.S. Central Command said in a statement on social media early Saturday that the damage to the vessel had created an 18-mile oil slick. The command called it an “environmental disaster” that could get much worse if the tens of thousands of tons of fertilizer the ship was carrying were to spill into the Red Sea.

Though few of the Houthi missile and drone attacks on ships in the Red Sea since the start of Israel’s war in Gaza have inflicted major damage, the attack on the Rubymar appeared to be one of the Houthis’ more serious to date. At least one missile struck the ship on Monday night after being fired from a part of Yemen controlled by Houthi militants, the U.S. military said.

The Houthis, an Iran-backed group that has been targeting ships in what they call a campaign to pressure Israel to stop the war in Gaza, later claimed that they had sunk the ship. But satellite imagery and the ship’s operator confirmed that the Houthis had not. The U.S. Central Command said it was anchored but slowly taking on water.

After the Rubymar was hit, its crew issued a distress call and then abandoned ship, according to the Central Command. A coalition warship responded to the distress call, and the crew was taken to a port by a merchant vessel in the area, a Central Command statement said.

They were taken to Djibouti by a vessel operated by a French shipping company and have since flown home, according to Mr. Khoury. Djibouti port officials said 24 crew members were on board: 11 Syrians, six Egyptians, three Indians and four Filipinos.

The port officials also said that the fertilizer the Rubymar was carrying is classified as “high consequence dangerous goods” for its combustion risk by the International Maritime Organization, the U.N. body that regulates global shipping. The Central Command said the ship was carrying 41,000 tons of fertilizer when it was attacked. The Blue Fleet Group did not comment about the ship’s cargo.

The Rubymar, a bulk carrier sailing with a Belize flag, is owned by Golden Adventure Shipping, a company registered in the Marshall Islands, Mr. Khoury said. The Blue Fleet Group is based out of Athens.

Since the Houthis began attacking ships in the Red Sea, a coalition of countries, including the United States and Britain, have used naval forces to defend vessels and retaliate. The U.S.-led coalition has repeatedly struck missiles and launchers in Yemen and intercepted drones and missiles. But the attacks have persisted against ships flying a variety of flags.

On Thursday, the Central Command said that it had conducted “self-defense strikes” against four Iranian-backed Houthi drones and two missiles that were prepared to launch from Houthi-controlled parts of Yemen. On Friday, the military said it had shot down three Houthi drones near “several commercial ships operating in the Red Sea” and destroyed seven missiles being prepared to launch.

Riley Mellen contributed reporting.