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Pompeo visits West Bank settlement and offers parting gifts to Israeli right

Secretary of state takes a victory lap over the Trump administration’s policy achievements in Middle East

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, center, and Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, right.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, center, and Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, right.PATRICK SEMANSKY/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

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 Pompeo unwrapped some new ones.

He announced that the United States would henceforth view the international campaign to boycott Israel 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, specialists 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,” Netanyahu said to 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, Pompeo’s whirlwind day was scarcely a mere victory lap. It was a last chance to reinforce Israel’s hard-line approach to 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.

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

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 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 President-elect Joe Biden would pay little political price for reversing it.

Later in the day, in another first for a US secretary of state, Pompeo 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 Heights last year.

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

Local Palestinians and Israeli land specialists 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.

The new guidelines 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.

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.

The Trump plan, which 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 BDS,” 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 Pompeo’s designation of the BDS movement as anti-Semitic would have.

“We want to stand with all other nations that recognize the BDS 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, BDS 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.