Louisiana’s Rep. Mike Johnson slams Biden reversal on Israeli homes in the territories

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-La.) speaks during a House Judiciary Committee field hearing on New York City violent crimes, at the Javits Federal Building in New York City on April 17, 2023. Credit: Lev Radin/Shutterstock.

(JNS) — U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson, a Louisiana Republican, on Feb. 24 slammed as an “absolute disgrace” the Biden administration’s decision to reverse the “Pompeo doctrine,” which held that Jewish homes in Judea and Samaria were not necessarily illegal.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Feb. 23 that Israel’s approval of 3,000 new housing units in Judea — announced after one Israeli was killed and six wounded in a Palestinian terrorist attack near Jerusalem — was “inconsistent with international law.”

“The Jewish people have a historic and legal right to live in the land of Israel including in Judea and Samaria — the biblical heartland,” tweeted Johnson. “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.

“The Biden administration must stop undermining Israel and facilitating efforts to delegitimize Israel. It is misguided and unconscionable.”

Blinken’s declaration upended the Trump administration’s “Pompeo doctrine,” which held that “the establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not per se inconsistent with international law.”

During a trip to Buenos Aires, Blinken said Washington was “disappointed” in the approval of the new housing units, adding: “It’s been long-standing 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.”

Then-U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in 2019 that the Trump administration was reversing an Obama administration policy of describing Israeli “settlements” as inherently illegal under international law.

“The legal conclusions relating to individual settlements must depend on an assessment of specific facts and circumstances on the ground,” Pompeo said at the time.

John Kirby, White House national security communications adviser, said that Blinken’s statement was a return to a consistent U.S. position on the housing units.

“This isn’t about the previous administration,” he said. “We are simply reaffirming the fundamental conclusion that these settlements are inconsistent with international law.

“That is a position that’s been consistent over a range of Republican and Democratic administrations,” Kirby added. “If there’s an administration that [has been] inconsistent, it was the previous one.”

In response, Pompeo condemned the move, saying, “Judea and Samaria are rightful parts of the Jewish homeland, and Israelis have a right to live there.

“President Biden’s decision to overturn our policy and call Israeli ‘settlements’ illegal will not further the cause of peace. It rewards Hamas for its brutal attacks on Oct. 7 and punishes Israel instead. These Israeli communities are not standing in the way of peace; militant Palestinian terrorism is.”

The Trump administration policy “simply recognized reality: Judea and Samaria are the homeland of the Jewish people,” said Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) on Feb. 24.

“It’s shameful that the Biden administration reversed this and rewarded terrorists — all to help Biden’s poll numbers in Michigan,” he added, referring to the battleground state in November’s upcoming U.S. presidential election.

Adding their voices to those criticizing the Biden administration’s position were Rep. Carlos A. Gimenez (R-Fla.), who tweeted that “Judea & Samaria is Israel. Period,” and Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.), who backed comments by former U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman regarding the legality of Israeli communities in the region.

David Friedman, former U.S. ambassador to Israel, called Blinken’s decision “100% wrong.”

Friedman and “many” U.S. State Department lawyers researched the issue for a year before making the announcement, he wrote. He also questioned the timing of the announcement.

“For Blinken to announce this in the middle of a war and when the Jewish Sabbath already has begun in Israel is unconscionable,” he wrote.

On Feb. 22, at a National Religious Broadcasters Convention forum in Nashville, Friedman announced a peace plan that included Israeli sovereignty over Judea and Samaria.

Also on Feb. 22, Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich announced that the Defense Ministry body which authorizes construction in Judea and Samaria would convene to approve plans for 2,350 new housing units in Ma’ale Adumim, 694 units in Efrat and 300 units in Kedar.

The move came hours after three Palestinian terrorists murdered Matan Elmaleh, 26, and wounded six others in a shooting attack on the Route 1 highway.

Smotrich, who is also a minister in the Defense Ministry, said that the appropriate response to the attack was to build more Jewish homes across the Green Line.

“May every terrorist planning to harm us know that lifting a finger against Israeli citizens will be met with a death blow and destruction, in addition to the deepening of our eternal grip on the entire Land of Israel,” said Smotrich.