Pompeo settlement visit stirs Palestinian outcry
JERUSALEM— Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday became the first top American diplomat to visit an Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank as the State Department in amajor policy shift announced that products from the settlements can be labeled “Made in Israel.”
The twomoves reflected the Trump administration’s acceptance of Israeli settlements, which the Palestinians and most of the international community view as a violation of international law and a major obstacle to peace.
Nabil Abu Rdeneh, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, condemned Pompeo’s embrace of the settlements and accused the outgoing U.S. administration of “active participation in the occupation of Palestinian lands.”
Pompeo also announced that the U.S. would brand the international Palestinian-led boycott movement against Israel as “anti-Semitic” and bar any groups that participate in it from receiving government funding. It was not immediately clear which groups would be affected by the move.
Pompeo’s announcements were largely symbolic and could be reversed by the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden, who has promised a more evenhanded approach to
Israel and the Palestinians. Nonetheless, they illustrated the deep ties between the outgoing Trump administration and the hard-line government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In a Twitter post, Pompeo confirmed his visit to the Psagot Winery, located in a settlement near Jerusalem, which released a blended red named for the secretary last year in gratitude for his stance on the settlements. Reporters were not allowed to accompany him.
“Enjoyed lunch at the scenic Psagot Winery today,” he tweeted. “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 European Union, like most of the world, opposes Israeli settlements and requires imports from the occupied territory to be labeled as coming from the West Bank.
Pompeo had earlier announced theU.S. will regard the Palestinian-led boycott movement as “anti-Semitic” and cut off government support for any organizations taking part in it, a step that could deny funding to Palestinian and international human rights groups.
Organizers of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement cast their effort as a nonviolent way of protesting Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians modeled on the campaign that helped end apartheid in South Africa. The movement has had some limited success over the years, particularly on college campuses and with artists and entertainers, but no impact on the Israeli economy.
Israel views the boycott as an assault on its very existence, and has seized on statements by some supporters to accuse it of anti-Semitism, allegations denied by organizers.
In a statement, the BDS movement reiterated its rejection of “all forms of racism, including antiJewish racism,” and accused the U.S. and Israel of trying to silence advocacy for Palestinian rights.
Kate Ruane, senior legislative counsel of the American Civil Liberties Union, said that threatening to block funds to groups that criticize Israel is “blatantly unconstitutional.”
Virtually all Palestinian civil society groups support the boycott movement. Under President Donald Trump, the U.S. has already cut off nearly all forms of aid to the Palestinians. Biden has pledged to restore the aid as part of efforts to revive the peace process.
Israel captured east Jerusalem and the West Bank in the 1967 war. The Palestinians claim both territories and say the settlements have all but extinguished their hopes for a viable, independent state.
Trump’s Mideast plan, would allow Israel to annex up to a third of the West Bank, including all of its settlements.