Pompeo Visits West Bank Settlement and Calls B.D.S. Anti-Semitic

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Pompeo Visits West Bank Settlement and Calls B.D.S. Anti-Semitic


JERUSALEM — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday became the most senior U.S. official to visit an Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank and announced two more policy shifts that cheered Israel’s right wing but were denounced by the Palestinians.

He declared that the Trump administration now viewed an international campaign to boycott Israel as anti-Semitic, and then unveiled new guidelines to ensure that goods exported to the United States from many Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank would be labeled “made in Israel.”

The secretary’s day was a whirlwind victory lap over the Trump administration’s many moves in support of Israel — and a string of photo opportunities that could be highly useful for Mr. Pompeo, particularly with the evangelical Christian voters he has long courted, if he were to seek the Republican nomination for president in 2024.

“We want to stand with all other nations that recognize the B.D.S. movement for the cancer that it is,” he said, referring to the campaign to boycott, divest from and impose sanctions on Israel. Speaking alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he said the United States would deny government support to groups that embrace B.D.S.

Mr. Netanyahu called the decision “simply wonderful.”

Modeled on the fight against apartheid in South Africa, B.D.S. seeks to mobilize international economic and political pressure on Israel in solidarity with the Palestinians. Its supporters include some large American church groups and a variety of liberal advocacy groups.

From Jerusalem, Mr. Pompeo drove on Thursday to Qasr el-Yahud, an Israeli-controlled area on the banks of the Jordan River that is known as the traditional scene of Jesus’s baptism. He then flew by helicopter to the visitor center of the Psagot winery in a Jewish settlement near the West Bank city of Ramallah.

In another first for a U.S. secretary of state, Mr. Pompeo flew in the afternoon to the long-disputed Golan Heights, along Israel’s frontier with Syria.

Israel captured the territory from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it in 1981, a move that the United Nations Security Council rejected in a resolution based on the principle that “the acquisition of territory by force is inadmissible.” But President Trump recognized Israel’s authority over the Golan in March 2019.

“The people of the book have not had a better friend,” Mr. Netanyahu said to Mr. Pompeo on Thursday morning.

Most of the world considers Jewish settlements in the West Bank, which Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 war, a violation of international law.

Local Palestinian residents and Israeli land experts say that many of the vines that supply the Psagot winery grow on plundered soil. Several Palestinian families are registered as the legal owners of nearly 20 acres around the settlement that are now planted with the winery’s grapevines.

Mr. Pompeo’s visit, which had not been announced in advance, drew condemnation from Palestinians.

Munif Treish, a 70-year-old Palestinian-American who said his family owned land in Psagot, called it astonishing. “By law, Pompeo is supposed to protect the property and interests of American citizens all over the world,” he said. “But he is coming here to give legitimacy to the Israeli settlers who are trespassing, grabbing and cultivating our land illegally.”

“As secretary of state, he’s the one who should he upholding all the values of the United States — human rights and freedom,” Mr. Treish added. “What happened to all of that? That’s what’s really disgusting. Is he looking for a prize? Is he here to get some political gains?”

The settlement of Psagot was originally established on about 35 acres of public land that the Israeli authorities seized in 1979, ostensibly for security, according to Dror Etkes, a researcher at Kerem Navot, a group that monitors Israeli land policy in the West Bank.

In the 1990s, he said, the father of the current winery chief, Yaakov Berg, began planting on private Palestinian land that lay beyond the settlement homes. In 2003, the authorities put a security fence around the settlement and expanded its land area to about 160 acres, while blocking access to outsiders. Mr. Etkes said the area covered by the vineyards had since grown tenfold.

Mr. Berg sued to get the European Union to reverse its policy of labeling settlement products as made in occupied territory but lost the case a year ago. Days later, Mr. Pompeo attacked the European Court of Justice’s decision in the case and rescinded a 1978 State Department memorandum concluding that the settlements were inconsistent with international law.

Mr. Berg later produced a novelty label of his wine named “Pompeo.”

The winery’s majority shareholders are the American Falic brothers, owners of the Miami-based Duty Free Americas shops, who have contributed generously to both Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Trump and given millions of dollars to the settlement enterprise.

In a winery guest book, Mr. Pompeo wrote, “May I not be the last secretary of state to visit this beautiful land.”

About the time he was having lunch at the winery, Mr. Pompeo’s office announced new guidelines to ensure that all goods produced within the 60 percent of the West Bank where Israel exercises full control would be required to be marked as a product of Israel, or as “Made in Israel,” when exporting to the United States.

Since 1995, in the wake of the Israeli-Palestinian Oslo peace accords, the requirement had been to label such goods as originating in the West Bank.

Mr. Pompeo said in a statement that the decision was consistent with the administration’s “reality-based foreign policy approach,” and that the producers “operate within the economic and administrative framework of Israel and their goods should be treated accordingly.”

But the new policy could have broader meaning.

Israel suspended plans to annex West Bank territory in return for its normalization deals with the Gulf States. But designating settlement products as Israeli is also consistent with the vision laid out in the Trump administration’s peace plan, which would ultimately grant Israel sovereignty over all the settlements in return for a truncated, barely contiguous Palestinian state.

Left-wing Israelis, however, warned that the move to sanitize traces of the occupation from exports of settlement goods to the United States would only fuel criticism of Israel.

“A glorious own goal for Israeli agriculture and industry, another victory for B.D.S.,” the activist Yariv Oppenheimer wrote on Twitter. “If it is impossible to distinguish between settlements and produce of Israel, the solution for many people will be to boycott everything. We are all settlers.”

It was not clear what, if any, practical and immediate effect the new B.D.S. policy might have in the waning days of the Trump administration.

Many who embrace B.D.S. see it as aimed primarily at ending Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. But its opponents say the movement’s real goal is the elimination of Israel as a Jewish state.

The Israeli government has, over the years, allocated budgets to combat B.D.S., describing the movement as a grave threat that delegitimizes Israel abroad, while at the same time dismissing its economic impact on the country as marginal.

Mustafa Barghouti, a Palestinian leader in the West Bank who for years has advocated a boycott of Israel, assailed Mr. Pompeo’s announcement. It was, he said, the latest in a series of Trump administration attempts to throw obstructions into the path of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. — “obstacles that they think are irreversible.”

“B.D.S. is a peaceful, nonviolent movement,” Mr. Barghouti said. “It is not against Israeli or Jewish people — it is against the policy of occupation and apartheid.”

“Calling it anti-Semitic is another way of suppressing people’s rights of freedom of expression and freedom of choice,” Mr. Barghouti said, “and also a harassment of the American people who have the right to choose whether to participate in it or not participate in it.”

But Gerald Steinberg, president of NGO Monitor, a right-leaning group that tracks the funding and agendas of groups that it sees as anti-Israel, said B.D.S. advocates “refer to Israel as inherently racist,” challenging the morality of its founding.

He did agree, however, that the decision could pose problems for the Biden administration.

“I don’t see this statement as a watershed moment, because it comes at the end of the Trump administration,” Mr. Steinberg said. “But nevertheless, it is important, it sets a marker. And it will be difficult for Democrats who oppose the demonization of Israel to ignore this marker.”

Adam Rasgon contributed reporting from El Bireh, West Bank.





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