PSAGOT, West Bank – Under any other US government this would have been out of the question.
But Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is no stranger to breaking with decades of U.S. foreign policy tradition regarding Palestinian-claimed land, and on Thursday he became the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit an Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank when he went to the USA traveled to Psagot Winery in the hills outside Jerusalem.
His trip to Israel was filled with politically altered announcements about the US approach to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement and the labeling of products made in some parts of the West Bank – land claimed by Palestinians – as “Made in Israel” .
“I have a hard time expressing how we feel about the foreign minister and the Jewish people,” Yaakov Berg, the owner of the winery, told NBC News.
He added that Pompeo was the first US Secretary of State to clearly state that the country “is Israel”.
Most of the international community regards settlements as illegal, based on the principle of the Geneva Convention that an occupying power is prevented from moving its population to war-won areas. Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan in its 1967 war with its Arab neighbors.
Last year, in a case involving the winery, the European Supreme Court ruled that countries must identify products made in Israeli settlements.
Israel vehemently refused The judgment of the European Court of Justice, according to which it is political, discriminates against the country and affects the chances of peace.
But it was a blow to Berg’s business, which produces 600,000 bottles a year and exports 70 percent of that.
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However, days after the European judgment, Pompeo announced that the US would reverse its decades-long policy that Israeli settlements in the West Bank are illegal. Washington will no longer take a position on the legality of an agreement and leave the decision to the Israeli courts, he said.
As a token of his gratitude, Berg named a “special” wine after Pompeo, which was made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot grapes.
“The message from the US government is extremely important and strengthens our ongoing fight against the boycott and hypocrisy campaign carried out by the European Court of Justice,” Berg said in a message on the Psagot Winery website, explaining the background of the wine. “We will continue this just and moral struggle.”
While visiting the winery on Thursday, Pompeo tried not only to give legitimacy to Israeli settlements, but also brought more tangible gifts.
In a statement, he said the US would require all manufacturers in Area C of the West Bank to mark goods exported to America as “Made in Israel” or something similar.
Area C. – where the winery is located – is the roughly 60 percent of the West Bank over which Israel has almost full control and where most of the Jewish settlements are located.
Pompeo also announced that the State Department will now consider the Boycott, Divestiture and Sanctions Movement (BDS), which calls for the boycott of goods made in the Israeli settlements, to be anti-Semitic and punish those who support them.
BDS said it “consistently and categorically” rejected all forms of racism.
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said last week that Pompeo’s visit set a “dangerous precedent” for “legalizing settlements”.
Psagot winery is located in an industrial area that was established by settlers not far from the Palestinian city of Ramallah. It is Vineyards are scattered across the West Bank on land claimed by Palestinians.
Odeh Hamayel said his 90-year-old grandfather, a US citizen, owns more than four acres of land that has been confiscated to expand the Psagot settlement.
NBC has seen documents showing Hamayel’s grandfather owns land on which the Psagot Settlement is now being built. NBC was unable to verify that it was being used by Psagot Winery, however.
“‘Where are my rights if my land, as a US citizen, has been confiscated for over 50 years for an Israeli settler to open a business and benefit from it,'” Hamayel said, mimicking what his grandfather might say if he had the opportunity to meet Pompeo.
“If Pompeo decides to enter this settlement block, he is stepping into something that violates international law,” added Hamayel, speaking for himself. “He should know better.”
Paul Goldman reported on the Psagot winery, Lawahez Jabari from Al-Bireh in the West Bank and Saphora from London, England.