Richmond Times-Dispatch

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.

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