Mike Pompeo becomes first top US diplomat to visit Israeli settlement

Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo tours the Friends of Zion Museum in Jerusalem, Israel, on November 20, 2020. | State Department/Ron Przysucha/ Public Domain

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo became the first top U.S. diplomat to officially visit a West Bank Israeli settlement on Thursday and toured parts of the Golan Heights after the U.S. recognized Israel’s sovereignty over the territory last year. 

“You can’t stand here and stare out at what’s across the border and deny the central thing that President Donald Trump recognized, what the previous presidents have refused to do,” Pompeo said, referring to Trump’s decision to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan, which the Jewish state captured from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed.

“This is a part of Israel and central part of Israel,” Pompeo added.

Pompeo also visited the Psagot Winery’s visitor center, on the edge of the Sha’ar Binyamin settlement, in the West Bank, The Wall Street Journal reported. 

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

The State Department announced Thursday that it was “initiating new guidelines to ensure that country of origin markings for Israeli and Palestinian goods are consistent with our reality-based foreign policy approach.”

It added, “In accordance with this announcement, all producers within areas where Israel exercises the relevant authorities — most notably Area C under the Oslo Accords — will be required to mark goods as  'Israel,’ ‘Product of Israel,’ or ‘Made in Israel’ when exporting to the United States.

“Goods in areas of the West Bank where the Palestinian Authority maintains relevant authorities shall be marked as products of  ‘West Bank’ and goods produced in Gaza will be marked as products of ‘Gaza," the statement continued. "Under the new approach, we will no longer accept ‘West Bank/Gaza’ or similar markings, in recognition that Gaza and the West Bank are politically and administratively separate and should be treated accordingly.”

The winery has named one of its wines “Pompeo,” which it has been selling over the past year, in homage to his announcement that the Trump administration would no longer see Israeli settlements in the West Bank as a violation of international law.

“... we feel that we have a connection to him,” said Yaakov Berg, the winery’s chief executive. “I have no doubt the meaning of the visit means that this is part of Israel.”

Pompeo also visited the Qasr al-Yahud baptism site along the Jordan River, where the baptism of Jesus is believed to have taken place. 

On Wednesday, he made a trip to the City of David near the Old City in East Jerusalem.

“Wonderful to see the work being done to preserve the ancient @City_of_David and the new discoveries by archaeologists working in the area. Thank you to Ze’ev Orenstein for the fascinating tour of the site of three thousand years of ancient history,” Pompeo tweeted after the visit.

Before visiting the winery, Pompeo condemned the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, referred to as BDS, which is aimed at ending international support for Israel.

“We will regard the global, anti-Israel BDS campaign as anti-Semitic,” Pompeo said. “We will immediately take steps to identify organizations that engage in hateful BDS conduct and withdraw U.S. government support for such groups,” he said, stressing that all countries should “recognize the BDS movement for the cancer that it is.”

The Times of Israel noted that "Israel sees BDS as a strategic threat and has long accused it of anti-Semitism, and a law passed in 2017 allows Israel to ban foreigners with links to BDS from entering the country."

Earlier this month, the majority-Christian nation of Malawi in southeastern Africa announced plans to open an embassy in Israel and place it in Jerusalem by the summer of 2021.

During his visit to Israel, Malawi Foreign Minister Eisenhower Mkaka issued a video statement, calling the decision a “bold and significant step,” as Malawi will be the first African nation to have an embassy in Jerusalem,  Reuters reported at the time.

Currently, only the United States and Guatemala have embassies in Jerusalem, though Brazil, Serbia, Kosovo, Croatia, Honduras, Moldova, Romania and the Czech Republic have also said they will open embassies there.

A number of African countries, including Kenya, Ivory Coast, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, once had embassies in Jerusalem, but they were closed following the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

Last month, Sudan became the third Arab nation — after the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain — to normalize ties with Israel as part of a U.S.-brokered peace agreement.

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