Mike Pompeo has become the first United States Secretary of State to visit an Israeli West Bank settlement and the Golan Heights.
Last year, Pompeo, an evangelical Christian, broke with decades of American foreign policy to announce that the United States under President Donald Trump no longer viewed Israel’s settlements in the West Bank as “inconsistent with international law.”
Just a short distance north of Jerusalem, Pompeo dined at the Shaar Binyamin industrial zone and visited the Psagot winery, which is named after a nearby settlement and had named a blend in his honor.
The West Bank, known to most Israelis by their biblical names of Judea and Samaria, is home to some 440,000 Jewish settlers who live uneasily among three million Palestinians, mostly in fortified hilltop settlements. Pompeo’s visit marked a significant departure from previous policy for top U.S. officials to remain away from settlements, which Palestinians view as obstacles to a viable future state.
“Enjoyed lunch at the scenic Psagot Winery today. Unfortunately, Psagot and other businesses have been targeted by pernicious EU (European Union) labeling efforts that facilitate the boycott of Israeli companies. The U.S. stands with Israel and will not tolerate any form of delegitimization,” Pompeo wrote on Twitter.
Under EU guidelines farm and other products made in Israeli settlements and exported to EU member countries should be clearly labeled as coming from the settlements, which the bloc considers illegal under international law.
Earlier on Thursday, Pompeo appeared alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as he declared that, “the Department of State is initiating new guidelines to ensure that country of origin markings for Israeli and Palestinian goods are consistent with our reality-based foreign policy approach. 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.”
“This approach recognizes that Area C producers operate within the economic and administrative framework of Israel and their goods should be treated accordingly. This update will also eliminate confusion by recognizing that producers in other parts of the West Bank are for all practical purposes administratively separate and that their goods should be marked accordingly,” stressed the top American diplomat.
“We remain committed to an enduring and sustainable peace as outlined in President Trump’s Vision for Peace. We will continue to oppose those countries and international institutions which delegitimize or penalize Israel and Israeli producers in the West Bank through malicious measures that fail to recognize the reality on the ground,” he said.
This followed Pompeo’s earlier declaration that “It is the policy of the United States to combat anti-Semitism everywhere in the world and in whatever form it appears, including all forms of discrimination and hatred rooted in anti-Semitism,” before going on to proclaim that “ The United States strongly opposes the global discriminatory boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign (Global BDS Campaign) and practices that facilitate it, such as discriminatory labeling and the publication of databases of companies that operate in Israel or Israeli-controlled areas.”
“As we have made clear, anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism. The United States is, therefore, committed to countering the Global BDS Campaign as a manifestation of anti-Semitism,” said Pompeo, stressing that, “The United States urges governments around the world to take appropriate steps to ensure that their funds are not provided directly or indirectly to organizations engaged in anti-Semitic BDS activities.”
Pompeo later flew to the Golan Heights, a mountainous plateau that overlooks Israel, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. The IDF captured the territory in the 1967 Six Day War from Syria, which had used the strategic site to repeatedly attack the Jewish State after its establishment in 1948. Syria’s efforts to regain the Heights in the 1973 Yom Kippur War were a failure. The two countries signed an armistice in 1974 and the Golan had been relatively quiet since.
The Trump Administration in 2019 recognized Israel’s claim to sovereignty over its side of the Golan, which it had previously annexed in a move that was rejected by many in the international community.
Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi thanked both his American counterpart and President Trump “for their long support for the security and the fate of the State of Israel,” and for “recognizing the sovereignty of the State of Israel.”
“I very much wanted to come here on this trip to tell the world that we have it right. That we, the United States has it right. That Israel has it right,” Pompeo said from a hilltop looking over at an area of the Syrian Golan that was until recently controlled by militias fighting the Arab Republic’s civil war.
“Each nation has the right to defend itself in its own sovereignty,” he underscored.
Secretary Pompeo then delivered the following speech:
“Thirty-five years ago as a young cadet, I studied about this very place – this amazing and important piece of real estate. You can’t stand here and stare out at what’s across the border and deny the central thing that President Trump recognized that previous presidents had refused to do. But this is a part of Israel and a central part of Israel.
I remember too not long after I was a cadet, I was an officer in the United States Army. And I remember the international pressure to return this very place to Syria. It was all the rage in the salons in Europe and in the elite institutions in America to say that this should be returned to Syria. Imagine, imagine with Assad in control of this place, the risk, the harm to the West and to Israel and to the people of Israel. President Trump just recognized the basic fact that this indeed is part of Israel. And it was an honor to be there. It was an honor to be here with General Kahalani and to hear the story – the famous battle of the Valley of Tears fought here where as a younger officer he saved this great nation. So, it’s great to be here with you.
I told the Prime Minister that I very much wanted to come here on this trip to tell the world that we have it right. That we, the United States, has it right and that Israel has it right. And that each nation has the right to defend itself and its own sovereignty. And that the United States of America and the Trump Administration will continue to do all that we can to make sure that Israel has what it needs to do just that. And we will honor your right to defend your own people. So, thank you very much Mr. Foreign Minister for being with me, and thank you all for joining us out here today. Thanks.”
Pompeo’s historic visit came during the Israeli leg of what may be his last tour of the Middle East in the waning months of his time in office.
Palestinians scorned the Secretary’s visit. Palestinian Negotiator Hanan Ashrawi accused Pompeo of 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.”
Palestinians were also infuriated when the Trump Administration recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, claiming the eastern side of the city for a future state. Ramallah boycotted the Trump White House for nearly three years, accusing it of consistent pro-Israel bias. They have indicated they would resume relations as normal with Washington once President-elect Joe Biden takes office, in what is seen as a gesture of goodwill towards his future administration. It remains unknown how many if any of the Trump policy changes will be reversed by a Biden administration.
Syria also condemned Pompeo’s visit to what it claimed was the “occupied” Golan Heights in the “strongest language,” state media reported. Citing a government source, state news agencies said that “The visit is a provocative move before the end of Trump’s administration and a flagrant violation of our sovereignty.”
Damascus called on the international community and the United Nations to condemn Pompeo’s trip.
Despite the Arab response, Israel is deeply grateful for all that U.S. President Donald Trump and his Administration have accomplished for the peace and security of the country.
At the start of his trip in Jerusalem on Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his deep gratitude while listing the many actions undertaken by the United States under President Trump as an evident testament to the unprecedented bond between the two allies.
“Thanks to President Trump, the US recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved its embassy here. Thanks to President Trump, the United States recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Thanks to President Trump, the US pulled out of the dangerous nuclear deal with Iran, placed crippling sanctions on the Iranian regime and eliminated the mega-terrorist Qassem Soleimani. Thanks to President Trump, the United States proposed the first truly realistic plan for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. And thanks to President Trump, Israel was able to forge peace with three Arab countries: the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan. Israel is deeply grateful for all that President Trump has done with you and the others of the team,” declared Netanyahu.
The Premier went on to praise Washington’s unyielding policy vis-à-vis the Islamic Republic of Iran – mentioning Secretary Pompeo’s twelve demands as a precursor for Tehran to be treated as a “normal country” while accusing nations that rejected the Trump Administration’s “maximum pressure campaign” as irresponsible actors who seek to grant the Ayatollah regime a “free pass” for its long-list of malign activities.
Among other topics of discussion, the top American diplomat also highlighted America’s intention to ratchet-up significant pressure on the Islamic Republic of Iran – as part of the Trump Administration’s effort to force the Ayatollah regime to abandon its malign foreign and domestic policies.
“We talked about how we can protect Americans and Israelis in the region from the regime in Tehran. We talked about this, they remain – we should not take for granted – they remain the foremost state sponsor of terrorism in all the world. Israel has provided outstanding support to our pressure campaign which we have no intention of relaxing,” said Pompeo, pointing out that, “Indeed just yesterday the United Sates released a wave of new sanctions on senior regime officials. An arm of the regime’s oppression that poses the charitable foundation that’s known as Mahshahr. These actions mark the one-year anniversary of the regime’s massacre for its own citizens in the city of Mahshahr, citizens who were peacefully protesting their government’s corruption and abuses. We stand with the Iranian people against those abuses.”
After concluding his welcomed visit to Israel, Secretary Pompeo continued his 7-nation tour of Europe and the Middle East.