Is­raeli set­tle­ment visit breaks pol­icy

US sec­re­tary of State’s trip angers Pales­tini­ans

USA TODAY US Edition - - NEWS | NA­TION & WORLD - Deirdre Sh­es­green

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.

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