Pompeo makes unprecedented visits to Golan, West bank settlement
JERUSALEM - Mike Pompeo on Thursday became the first US secretary of state to visit the occupied Golan Heights. The same day, he paid another unprecedented visit to a settlement in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Pompeo toured parts of the disputed territory on Israel’s border with Syria under heavy security with Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi.
“You can’t stand here and stare out at what’s across the border and deny the central thing that President Donald Trump recognised, what the previous presidents have refused to do,” Pompeo said, referring to Trump’s controversial decision to recognise Israeli sovereignty in the area last year.
“This is a part of Israel,” Pompeo said.
He condemned what he described as calls from “the salons in Europe and in the elite institutions in America,” for Israel to return the Golan to Syria, which were seized in the Six Day War.
“Imagine with (Syrian President Bashar) al-Assad in control of this place, the risk of the harm to the West and to Israel,” Pompeo said.
Ashkenazi praised Pompeo for recognising “the strategic importance of the Golan Heights,” saying that because Pompeo has served as head of the Central Intelligence Agency “he knows the facts.”
— Settler winery —
In another first for a US secretary of state, Pompeo also paid a visit Thursday to an Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank.
Palestinians accused Pompeo of helping Israel to cement its control over West Bank land that they seek for a state after he made a trip to the Shaar Binyamin winery near the settlement of Psagot, just north of Jerusalem.
To Israel’s delight and Palestinian dismay, Pompeo in 2019 broke with decades of American foreign policy to announce that the US under President Donald Trump no longer viewed Israel’s settlements as “inconsistent with international law.”
Palestinians and most of the world regard the settlements as illegal under international law.
After meeting with Israeli Premier Binyamin Netanyahu on Thursday morning, Pompeo travelled to the West Bank to visit the settler winery, which has a blend named after him.
He also issued guidelines for Israeli products made in settlements to be labelled “Made in Israel” or “Product of Israel” when imported to the United States, removing the distinction between products made within Israel and those produced in occupied territory.
Pompeo’s visit departed from past policy that had kept top US officials away from settlements, which Palestinians view as obstacles to a viable future state.
Palestinian negotiator Hanan Ashrawi accused Pompeo of using Trump’s final weeks in office “to set yet another illegal precedent, violate international law and perhaps to advance his own future political ambitions.”
“Pompeo is intoxicated by apartheid wine stolen from Palestinian land. It is opportunistic and self-serving, and it damages the chances for peace,” Ashrawi told Reuters.
Wasel Abu Youssef, a senior member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, also denounced his labelling announcement.
“This is totally rejected. It reaffirms the partnership between President Trump and the occupation,” he said.
It is unclear whether Trump’s decision on settlements would be reversed by a Biden administration, amid Israeli concerns he will take a tougher line on the issue.
— Assailing BDS —
Pompeo said Washington would also step up action against pro-Palestinian efforts to isolate Israel economically and diplomatically.
“I want you to know that we will immediately take steps to identify organisations that engage in hateful BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) conduct and withdraw US government support,” he said.
“We will regard the global anti-Israel BDS campaign as anti-Semitic,” Pompeo said. BDS supporters dispute that, saying they are against all forms of racism.
US-based Human Rights Watch said Pompeo had falsely equated peaceful support for boycotts of Israel with antisemitism.
“Instead of combating systemic racism and far-right extremism in the United States, the Trump administration is undermining the common fight against the scourge of antisemitism by equating it with peaceful advocacy of boycotts,” said Eric Goldstein, the group’s acting Middle East and North Africa director.