Tel Aviv, 19 November 2020 (dpa/MIA) – Mike Pompeo on Thursday became the first US secretary of state to make an official visit to a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank, in a key diplomatic gesture by the outgoing US administration in the highly sensitive region.
Pompeo announced one year ago that Washington no longer regards Israel’s settlements in the West Bank as illegal under international law, as most of the international community does.
Activists from Peace Now, an Israeli settlements watchdog, protested outside the winery Pompeo was visiting, and held up signs reading “USA Stop Undermining Peace,” and “Occupied Territory Can’t Be Normalized.”
The US embassy did not comment on the trip, and press were not allowed to cover it closely, but Peace Now activists and media outlets including Israeli Army Radio and other local broadcasters confirmed the visit.
Earlier on Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked Pompeo and outgoing US President Donald Trump for their unprecedented support over the past four years, including recognizing the “legal status of Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria.”
Pompeo, for his part, told Netanyahu that the United States would henceforth regard the international Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement as “anti-Semitic.”
The US would withdraw government support for groups in contact with the “hateful” Palestinian-led movement, which he liked to a “cancer.”
Netanyahu welcomed the announcement, saying “this sounds simply wonderful.”
Some 600,000 Israelis live in more than 200 settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which Palestinians hope to make their capital.
Israel refers to the land as Judea and Samaria, the Biblical names for the southern and northern West Bank. It also refers to it as “disputed territory” rather than “occupied territory.”
Psagot was the subject of a lawsuit in a top European court a year ago, which ruled that the vineyard’s products should be labelled as coming from a settlement, and not as products “made in Israel.”
The ruling angered Israel and was criticized by Washington. Pompeo later claimed that “the establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not per se inconsistent with international law.”
Psagot subsequently named a wine after Pompeo.
Pompeo’s visit is overshadowed by Trump’s loss in the November 3 presidential election, although the outgoing president has so far refused to concede.
Trump’s administration still has the power to carry out foreign policy moves ahead of inauguration day on January 20.