Top American diplomat Mike Pompeo made history on Thursday when he became the first foreign minister and highest-ranking US official to visit an Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank.
The visit is widely viewed as Pompeo’s last game in the Republican evangelical base as the most pro-government government in US history draws to a close, and it looks to a possible 2024 presidential election. In Israel, it is being presented as a parting gift to the ideological right wing of Israel and the settler community in the West Bank, a disputed region that was captured from Jordan in 1967.
Pompeo landed in Israel on Wednesday and met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Alzayani in Jerusalem. He also made a stop at Qasr al-Yahud, the traditional site of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan Valley, according to a Foreign Ministry official.
Pompeo also plans to visit the Golan Heights, the land Israel conquered from Syria in the same 1967 conflict and which is still considered an occupied territory by most international communities.
The settlement visit marks the last in a series of moves the Trump administration has made over the past four years to reverse 40 years of US policy. Pompeo’s trip, the latest blow to Palestinian hopes, comes after the Palestinian Authority announced on Tuesday that it would resume cooperation with Israel, seen as a sign of optimism following the victory of President-elect Joe Biden.
As early as 2017, US officials began removing public references to the West Bank and the Golan Heights as “occupied territories”. Months after the Golan Heights were recognized as part of Israel in March 2019, the Foreign Ministry rejected its own 1978 Foreign Ministry legal opinion that Israeli settlements in the West Bank were “inconsistent with international law.”
Speaking at a press conference with Netanyahu on Thursday, Pompeo said the State Department recognized that “settlements can be made in a manner that is lawful, proportionate and proportionate.”
Pompeo’s choice of destination in the disputed area was that Psagot winery, Involved in a high-level case last year in the Supreme Court of the European Union ruled Countries need to identify products made in Israeli settlements.
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Most of the international community regards settlements as illegal based on the principle of the Geneva Convention that prevents an occupying power from moving its population to war-won areas. They also see it as an obstacle to a two-state solution – a peace deal that depends on the establishment of a separate Palestinian state.
The Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh has called Visiting the winery is a “dangerous precedent” that “legalizes settlements”.
Around the same time he was visiting the winery, Pompeo made a statement that the US would require all producers in Area C of the West Bank to label goods as “Made in Israel” or similar when exported to America.
Area C. is around 60 percent of the West Bank, where Israel has almost full control and where most of the Jewish settlements are located.
Pompeo said the new guidelines would ensure country of origin labels for Israeli and Palestinian goods are in line with Washington’s “reality-based foreign policy approach”.
It came after Pompeo also announced Thursday that the State Department will now consider the boycotts, divestments and sanctions movement (BDS), which calls for boycotts of goods made in the Israeli settlements, to be anti-Semitic and punish those who support them.
In response, the BDS movement said The alliance between Trump and Netanyahu deliberately combined the opposition to the “Israeli repressive regime” with “anti-Jewish racism” in order to suppress the struggle for the rights of the Palestinians.
“BDS has consistently and categorically rejected all forms of racism. including anti-Jewish racism, “it said.
Originally included in the Trump administration’s peace plan for the Middle East, US support for further annexation has been suspended in favor of normalized relations between Israel and the Gulf states of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
Earlier this year, Pompeo was the first Secretary of State to officially visit the Western Wall, speaking to the Republican National Convention from Jerusalem.
The speech continues to be investigated by the Special Counsel’s Anti-Corruption Bureau as a potential violation of the Hatch Act, which prevents US officials from mixing election campaigns with official government business.
Pompeo claims that he acted in his “personal capacity” when delivering the speech and received approval from the State Department’s Legal Department despite flying to Israel on an official visit as Secretary of State.
This is Pompeo’s fourth stop on a seven-country tour where every leader recognized Biden’s victory, despite Trump refusing to admit.
Netanyahu’s own congratulations came hours after other world leaders including French President Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“Joe, we’ve had a long and warm personal relationship for almost 40 years,” said Netanyahu tweeted. “I know you as a great friend of Israel.”
Netanyahu immediately followed suit with a thank you to Trump for “the friendship you have shown the State of Israel and me personally”.
Netanyahu spoke to Biden on Tuesday, the day before Pompeo’s landing in Israel. The couple agreed to meet soon and reiterated the need to further strengthen the strong U.S.-Israel alliance, according to a statement from Netanyahu’s office.
The president-elect has spoken out against unilateral annexation and the hope of reviving the prospects for a two-state solution, but it is unclear what measures will go behind condemning Israeli expansion.
Israeli settlements have been labeled “illegitimate” and “obstacles to peace” under most of the Obama administrations. Shortly before the government resigned from office, the United States, in a largely symbolic way, allowed a UN Security Council resolution to pass the declaration of settlements that are illegal under international law.
It was the first resolution criticizing Israeli settlements, passed by the United States in nearly 40 years.