Pompeo visits Israeli settlement in occupied West Bank, in parting gift to Netanyahu

SHAAR BINYAMIN SETTLEMENT, West Bank (Reuters) – Mike Pompeo on Thursday paid the first visit by a U.S. secretary of state to an Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank, in a parting show of solidarity with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by the outgoing Trump administration.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu make a joint statement after meeting in Jerusalem, November 19, 2020. Maya Alleruzzo/Pool via REUTERS

Palestinians accused Pompeo, who planned to follow up the visit to the Psagot settlement near Jerusalem with a trip to the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights later in the day, of helping Israel cement its hold on West Bank land they seek for a state.

To Israel’s delight and Palestinian dismay, Pompeo announced a year ago that the United States no longer viewed Israel’s settlements on land it captured in the 1967 Middle East war as “inconsistent with international law”.

In the West Bank, Pompeo toured the Psagot settlement’s winery – it has named one of its wines after him. The visit was a sharp departure from past U.S. policy that had kept top U.S. government officials away from settlements, which Palestinians view as obstacles to a viable future state.

Before heading to the West Bank, Pompeo met Netanyahu, who praised Trump for recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and Israeli sovereignty over the Golan, which Israel annexed in 1981 in a move few countries have accepted.

“The simple recognition of this (the Golan) as part of Israel, too, was a decision President Trump made that is historically important and simply a recognition of reality,” Pompeo said.

Trump’s defeat in the U.S. presidential election was viewed by many Israelis with dismay, and Netanyahu waited 10 days after Joe Biden declared victory to speak with the Democratic candidate and refer to him as president-elect.

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The Palestinian leadership cut off ties with the White House three years ago, accusing it of pro-Israel bias.

‘INTOXICATED’

Hanan Ashrawi, a veteran Palestinian negotiator, 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”.

“Pompeo is intoxicated by apartheid wine stolen from Palestinian land. It is opportunistic and self-serving, and it damages the chances for peace,” Ashrawi told Reuters.

It is unclear whether Trump’s decision on settlements would be reversed by a future Biden administration, amid Israeli concerns he will take a tougher line on the issue in general.

Pompeo, who announced new U.S. sanctions on Iran while in Israel, said Washington would also step up action against pro-Palestinian efforts to isolate Israel economically and diplomatically.

“I want you to know that we will immediately take steps to identify organisations that engage in hateful BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) conduct and withdraw U.S. government support,” he said.

“We will regard the global anti-Israel BDS campaign as anti-Semitic,” Pompeo said. Supporters of BDS dispute that designation, saying they are against all forms of racism.

U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said Pompeo had falsely equated peaceful support for boycotts of Israel with antisemitism.

“Instead of combating systemic racism and far-right extremism in the United States, the Trump administration is undermining the common fight against the scourge of antisemitism by equating it with peaceful advocacy of boycotts,” said Eric Goldstein, the group’s acting Middle East and North Africa director.

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