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Pompeo backs West Bank settlements in landmark visit

November 19, 2020

The US secretary of state said he supported labeling products made in Israeli settlements as "Made in Israel" when imported to the US. Palestinians said the US was helping Israel cement its control over the West Bank.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Image: Israeli Prime Ministry/Handout/AA/picture-alliance

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday became the first-ever US top diplomat to visit an Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank. 

The trip to Israel was a parting show of solidarity with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by the  outgoing Trump administration. The two governments have shared close ties throughout the years. 

Pompeo met with Netanyahu and then travelled to the West Bank to visit a settler winery, which has a blend named after him. 

The secretary of state said he supports guidelines for Israeli products made in settlements to be labelled "Made in Israel" or "Product of Israel" when imported to the US. The move would remove the distinction between products made within Israel and those produced in occupied territory. 

Read more: What will Israel's West Bank annexation plans mean for the region?

It was a controversial move, but one in line with the Trump administration’s policy. In 2019, Pompeo broke with decades of American foreign policy to announce that the US under Trump no longer viewed Israel's settlements as "inconsistent with international law."

But Palestinians and much of the world regard those settlements as illegal under international law. 

Pompeo also visited the Golan Heights, a strategic territory the Jewish state seized from Syria in the Six-Day War of 1967. The US under Trump has recognized it as part of Israel. Pompeo said on Thursday that the recognition was "historically important and simply a recognition of the reality." 

The significance of the Golan Heights

Many people in Israel were concerned about the long-term impact of these policy changes, said DW's Jerusalem correspondent Tania Krämer. "This is an outgoing administration, but it set a symbolic precedent," she said. "And blurs the lines as to what is admissible in international law."

What were the reactions from Palestine and Syria?

Palestinians criticized Pompeo, saying the US was helping Israel to cement its control over West Bank lands. The Palestinian leadership cut ties with Trump White House three years ago, accusing it of pro-Israel bias. 

Palestinian negotiator Hanan Ashrawi said Pompeo was 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. 

Read more: Gaza: Coronavirus pandemic ruins youth's hopes for a way out

The Syrian government slammed Pompeo's visit to Golan as a "provocative step before the end of the Trump administration's team."

Damascus also described it as a "flagrant violation" of the Syrian sovereignty.

What did Pompeo say about the movement to boycott Israel?

Pompeo said during his visit that Washington would 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 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 anti-Semitic," he added. 

Pompeo has so far backed Trump in refusing to concede defeat to President-elect Joe Biden and it remains unclear how the Biden administration will manage the current US relationship with Israel or if he will work to reverse some of its policies. 

jcg/rt (Reuters, AP)