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

November 19, 2020 

JERUSALEM -- The high point of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's valedictory trip to Israel could easily have been the long, grateful recitation by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday of the gifts that the Trump administration has bestowed upon his right-wing government.

But then Mr. Pompeo unwrapped some new ones.

He announced that the United States would henceforth view the international boycott-Israel movement as anti-Semitic. He stopped on the occupied West Bank, becoming the most senior American official to visit one of Israel's settlements, which much of the world considers a violation of international law.

And he directed that goods imported to the United States from a large swath of the West Bank be labeled "made in Israel." The scope of that act, experts noted, far exceeded even the large section of the West Bank that the Trump peace plan envisioned being annexed by Israel.

"The people of the book have not had a better friend," Mr. Netanyahu said to Mr. Pompeo in Jerusalem on Thursday morning, after gushing that the classification of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement as anti-Semitic was "simply wonderful."

All told, Mr. Pompeo's whirlwind day was scarcely a mere victory lap. It was a last chance to reinforce Israel's hard-line approach to the Palestinians and, as Democrats and other supporters of a two-state solution cried foul, to place political land mines in the path of the incoming Biden administration.

ImageMr. Pompeo, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel in Jerusalem on Thursday.
Mr. Pompeo, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel in Jerusalem on Thursday.Credit...Pool photo by Maya Alleruzzo

It was also a day filled with photo opportunities that could be useful for Mr. Pompeo, particularly with the evangelical Christian voters he has long courted, were he to seek the Republican nomination for president in 2024.

Joel C. Rosenberg, an evangelical author and pollster based in Jerusalem who is a friend of Mr. Pompeo's, said the secretary was "solidifying his position as one of the great friends of Israel."

"There's no question," Mr. Rosenberg said. "And if he decided to run in 2024, he is squeezing the toothpaste out of the tube to show just how serious he is about strengthening the U.S. - Israel alliance. I think he's using the time wisely."

Mr. Pompeo's admirers say his support for Israel, like his evangelical beliefs, is deeply felt.

But there is also a rushed sense to the Trump administration's diplomatic moves on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the clock runs down as if, like settlers themselves, they are frantically pouring concrete in hopes that it will set before Jan. 20. It is the same approach the lame-duck administration is taking with Iran.

In both places, some of those moves will be difficult to reverse.

Others, however, like the new labeling guidelines for West Bank products, could be undone with the stroke of a pen, said Michael J. Koplow, an analyst and supporter of a two-state solution at the Israel Policy Forum.

He called the made-in-Israel rules a "fringe issue" that would resonate with Jewish Republicans, but said Mr. Biden would pay little political price for reversing it.

"But it also seems to be the case that Pompeo supports a vision of greater Israel as a core belief, irrespective of whether or not he runs for president down the road," Mr. Koplow said.

From Jerusalem, Mr. Pompeo drove to Qasr el Yahud, an Israeli-controlled area on the banks of the Jordan River that is traditionally held to be the site of Jesus's baptism.

Later in the day, in another first for a U.S. secretary of state, he flew to an old military fortification atop a strategic hill in the long-disputed Golan Heights overlooking Syria.

Israel captured the territory from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it in 1981, a move rejected by the United Nations Security Council. But President Trump recognized Israel's authority over the Golan last year.

But it was Mr. Pompeo's lunchtime stop at the Psagot winery in a Jewish settlement near the West Bank city of Ramallah that drew the loudest protests.


An Israeli air force helicopter carrying Mr. Pompeo on Thursday hovering over Psagot Winery, near an Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank.Credit...Ahmad Gharabli/Agence France-Presse -- Getty Images

Local Palestinians 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.

Munif Treish, a 70-year-old Palestinian-American who said his family owned land in Psagot, called Mr. Pompeo's visit 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."

Mr. Pompeo was familiar with the winery. When it lost a lawsuit last year to get the European Union to reverse its policy of labeling settlement products as made in occupied territory, Mr. Pompeo attacked the European Court of Justice's decision in the case and rescinded a 1978 State Department memorandum saying that the settlements were inconsistent with international law.

The winery later produced a wine labeled "Pompeo."

The winery's majority shareholders are the Falic brothers, the American 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."

The new guidelines Mr. Pompeo announced on imports specify 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 sold in the United States.

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

Mr. Pompeo said 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.


Palestinians protesting Mr. Pompeo's visit to the Israeli settlement of Psagot near the West Bank city of El Bireh on Wednesday.Credit...Majdi Mohammed/Associated Press

The Trump plan, which Mr. Netanyahu endorsed, would ultimately grant Israel sovereignty over all the settlements in return for a truncated, barely contiguous Palestinian state.

"Falsely labeling settlement products as 'made in Israel' means that Israel continues to benefit from its illegal and oppressive occupation of Palestine with complete impunity, thus giving the Israeli government no incentive to change its behavior, end the occupation and work toward peace," said Mohammad Mustafa, economic adviser to Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority.

Left-wing Israelis warned that the move to sanitize traces of the occupation from exports of settlement goods to the United States would backfire.

"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 unclear what practical and immediate effect Mr. Pompeo's designation of the B.D.S. movement as anti-Semitic would have.

"We want to stand with all other nations that recognize the B.D.S. movement for the cancer that it is," he said, saying the United States would deny government support to groups that embrace it.

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. Many supporters 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.

Mustafa Barghouti, a Palestinian leader in the West Bank who is a proponent of the boycott, assailed Mr. Pompeo's announcement as another attempt by the Trump administration to box in Mr. Biden by placing before him "obstacles that they think are irreversible."

"B.D.S. is a peaceful, nonviolent movement," Mr. Barghouti said. "Calling it anti-Semitic is another way of suppressing people's rights of freedom of expression and freedom of choice, 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 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.

"It sets a marker," he said. "And it will be difficult for Democrats who oppose the demonization of Israel to ignore this marker."

Adam Rasgon contributed reporting from Al-Bireh, West Bank, and Lara Jakes from Washington.

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