Israeli settlement visit breaks policy
US secretary of State’s trip angers Palestinians
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a provocative trip to an Israeli settlement on Thursday, visiting a winery established in the West Bank in part on land Palestinians say was stolen from them.
It marked the first time a top American diplomat has visited an Israeli settlement, communities built on territory claimed by the Palestinians and viewed by the United Nations and many other countries as illegal.
The move sparked outrage from Palestinians. Pompeo is “trespassing on Palestinian land stolen by Israel for its illegal settler-colonial enterprise,” tweeted Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee. “You’ve done a lot of damage already. Just go away!”
The State Department also announced two new pro-Israel policy shifts on Thursday. In the first, it said products made in the Israeli settlements and imported into the U.S. can be labeled “Made in Israel” rather than in the West Bank, breaking with longstanding policy. Second, the Trump administration labeled as “anti-Semitic” a boycott campaign, known as BDS, which is aimed at pressuring Israel to end its occupation of territory in the West Bank.
The announcements came after Pompeo toured the Psagot winery in the West Bank, part of a broader network of Israeli settlements in the occupied territory.
“Enjoyed lunch at the scenic Psagot Winery today,” Pompeo wrote in a tweet after his visit. “Unfortunately, Psagot and other businesses have been targeted by pernicious EU labeling efforts that facilitate the boycott of Israeli companies. The U.S. stands with Israel and will not tolerate any form of delegitimization.”
The Palestinians say the Israeli settlements make it nearly impossible for them to achieve their long-held goal of establishing a viable state.
Pompeo’s visit to the winery – which released a red wine named for him last year – came during a broader, multicountry diplomatic tour.
The Trump administration has made a series of controversial decisions favoring Israel, including moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, even though both the Palestinians and the Israelis claim that city as their capital. President Donald Trump also recognized Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, a disputed territory the United Nations considers “occupied” by Israel.
After his visit to the Israeli settlement, Pompeo visited the disputed territory of Golan Heights on Thursday. “This is a part of Israel and a central part of Israel,” he declared.
Earlier Thursday, Pompeo’s met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after which the Israeli leader lavished Pompeo and Trump with praise.
“Over the last four years, under President Trump and his remarkable team ... Israel’s alliance with the U.S. has reached unprecedented heights,” the Israeli leader said. “Israel is deeply grateful for all that President Trump has done.”
But Netanyahu also was among the first world leaders to congratulate President-elect Joe Biden on winning the Nov. 3 elections. Netanyahu and Biden have known each other for nearly 40 years, and the Israeli leader has starting referring to Biden as “president-elect” even though Trump is still contesting the election.
Pompeo is considered a possible 2024 presidential contender, and his visit to the Israeli settlement could boost his standing among evangelical Christians, as well as other pro-Israel constituencies in the U.S.
Israel captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem in the 1967 war, territories the Palestinians want for their future state. Since then, it has built about 130 settlements and dozens of smaller outposts, from clusters of mobile homes on remote hilltops to fully developed towns. More than 460,000 Israeli settlers reside in the occupied West Bank, and more than 220,000 live in annexed East Jerusalem.
The settlers, most of whom oppose a Palestinian state and view Jerusalem and the West Bank as the biblical and historical heart of Israel, say they are the scapegoats for a longstanding approach to solving the conflict that was never going to succeed.
The Palestinians say many of the settlements, including Psagot and its winery, were built on land stolen from private Palestinian owners. The residents of the nearby town of Al-Bireh – many of whom are American citizens – say the settlement gobbled up their land after Israel built a security fence around Psagot during the Palestinian intifada, or uprising, in the early 2000s.
Last November, the European Court of Justice ruled that European countries must label products originating in the settlements. The decision came after the Psagot winery challenged an earlier ruling.
Israel lashed out at the decision to make the labels mandatory, saying it was unfair, discriminatory and would embolden the Palestinian-led boycott movement against Israel.
A week after the ruling, Pompeo announced that the U.S. no longer considers Israeli settlements in the West Bank a violation of international law, reversing four decades of American policy.
To express its gratitude, Psagot released a new wine called “Pompeo.”
Palestinians say the Israeli settlements make it hard for them to achieve a goal of establishing a viable state.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrive to make a joint statement after meeting in Jerusalem on Thursday.