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November 19, 2020 7:24 am

Pompeo Becomes First US Secretary of State to Visit Israeli Settlement; Vows Action Against BDS Groups

avatar by Reuters and Algemeiner Staff

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are seen departing after making a joint statement, in Jerusalem, Israel, Nov. 19, 2020. Photo: Maya Alleruzzo / Pool via Reuters.

Mike Pompeo on Thursday became the first US secretary of state to tour an Israeli settlement in the West Bank.

Pompeo’s visit came during the Israel leg of what may be his last trip to the Middle East in the final months of President Donald Trump’s administration.

Last year, Pompeo broke with decades of American foreign policy to announce that the United States under Trump no longer viewed Israel‘s settlements in the West Bank as “inconsistent with international law.”

Earlier in 2019, Trump delighted Israel by recognizing its sovereignty over the Golan Heights — which it captured from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed.

These and other decisions were greeted with dismay by the Palestinians, who boycotted the Trump administration for nearly three years, accusing it of consistent pro-Israel bias.

The Palestinians have indicated they would resume relations as normal with Washington once President-elect Joe Biden takes office, widely seen as a gesture of goodwill toward his future administration.

However, it is unclear how many of Trump’s decisions will be reversed by a Biden administration.

On Thursday morning, Pompeo appeared alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said both Pompeo and Trump were long-standing friends of Israel.

Pompeo said the two leaders discussed Iran, the perceived threat of which has shifted political fault lines in the region, uniting Israel and Gulf Arab states in fear of Tehran.

He also issued guidelines for Israeli products made in settlements to be labelled “Made in Israel” or “Product of Israel” when exported to the United States.

West Bank

But first Pompeo travelled the short distance from Jerusalem to the West Bank — known to most Israelis as Judea and Samaria.

He dined at Shaar Binyamin, an Israeli industrial zone just north of Jerusalem where Psagot Winery — taking its name from a nearby settlement — had a blend named after him.

“Enjoyed lunch at the scenic Psagot Winery today. Unfortunately, Psagot and other businesses have been targeted by pernicious EU (European Union) labeling efforts that facilitate the boycott of Israeli companies. The U.S. stands with Israel and will not tolerate any form of delegitimization,” Pompeo wrote on Twitter.

Under EU guidelines, farm and other products made in Israeli settlements and exported to EU member countries should be clearly labeled as coming from the settlements, which the bloc considers illegal under international law.

Pompeo’s visit departed from past policy that had kept top US officials away from settlements.

Golan Heights

Pompeo later flew to the Golan Heights, a mountainous and strategic plateau that overlooks Israel, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.

“I very much wanted to come here on this trip to tell the world that we have it right. That we, the United States has it right. That Israel has it right,” Pompeo declared.

“Each nation has the right to defend itself in its own sovereignty,” he said.

Action against BDS

Earlier, in Jerusalem, Pompeo announced that Washington would step up action against efforts to isolate Israel economically and diplomatically.

“I want you to know that we will immediately take steps to identify organizations 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 antisemitic,” Pompeo stated.

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