US Secretary of State Pompeo visits Jewish settlement in West Bank


Mike Pompeo on Thursday became the first U.S. secretary of state to make an official visit to a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank, in a key diplomatic gesture to Israel by
the outgoing U.S. administration that sparked Palestinian outrage. 

He later also became the first U.S. secretary of state to visit the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights, which is still claimed by Syria.

"You can't stand here and stare out at what's across the border, and deny the central thing that President Donald Trump recognised that previous presidents had refused to do, that this is a part of Israel," Pompeo told Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi on a Golan Heights lookout post. "I told the prime minister that I very much wanted to come here on
this trip, to tell the world, that we the U.S. and Israel have it right," he said.

Ashkenazi told Pompeo: "I think, when you stand here, there's no need to explain what's the strategic importance of the Golan Heights."

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' official spokesman, Nabil Bu Rudeineh, however, strongly condemned both unprecedented visits as a "blatant challenge" of international law and consensus.

The outgoing secretary handed out more gestures to Israel, announcing that the State Department henceforth regarded the international Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) against Israel movement as "anti-Semitic".

The U.S. would withdraw government support for groups in contact with the "hateful" Palestinian-led movement, which he liked to a "cancer." He also announced that all goods produced in settlements and exported to the US must now be marked as "Product of Israel" or as "Made in Israel." 

The Psagot settlement vineyard, where Pompeo visited, was the subject of a lawsuit in a top European court a year ago, which ruled that its products should be labelled as coming from a settlement, and not as products "made in Israel."

Pompeo responded by announcing on 18 September 2019 that Washington no longer regarded Israel's settlements in the West Bank as illegal under international law, as most of the international community does. 

Psagot subsequently named a wine after Pompeo. Activists from Peace Now, an Israeli settlements watchdog, protested outside the winery and held up signs reading "USA Stop Undermining Peace," and "Occupied Territory Can't Be Normalised."

The U.S. embassy did not comment on the tour of the settlement winery, which a local settlement council spokeswoman said was located in an industrial zone close to Psagot.

Meanwhile, Damascus denounced in the "strongest terms" Pompeo's visit to the Golan Heights and considered it as "a provocative move." It also called it "a flagrant violation of the sovereignty of the Syrian Arab Republic at a time when this visit coincides with Israeli occupation forces' repeated attacks on Syria."

On Wednesday Syrian state-media said three Syrian soldiers were killed when Israeli fighter jets struck military targets on Syrian territory, although a war monitor said at least 10 people had died.

Syrian News Agency (SANA) quoted a Syrian foreign ministry source as calling on the United Nations and the international community to condemn the visit, which it said violated international resolutions, including a UN Security Council resolution.


Earlier in Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked Pompeo and Trump for their unprecedented support over the past four years, including recognizing Israel's 1981 annexation of the Golan Heights. 

Israel captured the strategic plateau from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War, during which it also captured the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the historic Old City, from Jordan.
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."

Pompeo's visit is overshadowed by Trump's loss in the November 3 U.S. 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.    (dpa)

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