Pompeo visits West Bank settlement and calls boycott of Israel anti-Semitic
By David M. Halbfinger and Isabel Kershner
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 handed Israel two more coveted policy shifts shortly after he declared that the Trump administration now viewed an international campaign to boycott Israel as anti-Semitic.
The secretary’s day was a whirlwind of what the Trump administration is portraying as a victory lap over its policy toward Israel and the Palestinians and of photo opportunities that could be highly useful for 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 BDS movement for the cancer that it is,” Pompeo said on the second day of a visit to Israel, referring to the campaign to boycott, adding that the United States would deny government support to groups that participated in the movement.
He made the pronouncements as he stood alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who called the decision “simply wonderful.”
Modeled on the fight against apartheid in South Africa, the BDS movement seeks to mobilize international economic and political pressure on Israel in solidarity with the Palestinians. In addition to a boycott, it calls for divesting from Israel and imposing sanctions on it and its supporters include some large U.S. church groups and a variety of liberal advocacy groups.
Pompeo drove Thursday from Jerusalem to an Israeli-controlled baptism site on the banks of the Jordan River near Jericho in the West Bank. From there, he flew by helicopter to the visitor center of the Psagot winery in a Jewish settlement near the West Bank city of Ramallah.
On Thursday afternoon, he also planned another first for a U.S. secretary of state: He will take a helicopter up to the long-disputed Golan Heights, along Israel’s frontier with Syria.
Israel annexed that territory in 1981, a move that the U.N. Security Council rejected in a resolution based on the principle that “the acquisition of territory by force is inadmissible.” But President Donald Trump recognized Israel’s authority over the Golan in March 2019.
“The people of the book have not had a better friend,” Netanyahu told him.
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.
Pompeo’s visit, which had not been announced in advance, drew rebukes from some Palestinians.
“I’m not only astonished but also very angry,” said Munif Treish, a 70-year-old Palestinian-American who said his family owned several plots of land in Psagot.
“By law, Pompeo is supposed to protect the property and interests of American citizens all over the world. But he is coming here to give legitimacy to the Israeli settlers who are trespassing, grabbing and cultivating our land illegally,” he said.
“As secretary of state, he’s the one who should he upholding all the values of the United States — human rights and freedom. 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?”
With Netanyahu at the King David Hotel, Pompeo smiled as the Israeli leader ticked off many of the actions taken by the Trump administration on Israel’s behalf.
They included recognizing Jerusalem as its capital and moving the U.S. Embassy there from Tel Aviv; pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal, which Israel opposed as too lenient; imposing “crippling sanctions” on Tehran; and killing Gen. Qasem Soleimani, the leader of a network of Iranian militias.
Netanyahu also mentioned the U.S. proposal for what he called the “first truly realistic plan for peace” between Israel and the Palestinians, although the Palestinians immediately rejected it; and the Trump administration’s help in brokering diplomatic accords between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan.
In another dramatic last-minute gift to Israel, Pompeo announced that the State Department was introducing new guidelines to ensure that all goods produced within the 60% of the West Bank where Israel exercises full control would be required to be marked as produce 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 the origin of such produce as the West Bank.
Pompeo said the decision to label settlement produce as “Israeli” was consistent with the administration’s “reality-based foreign policy approach.” The producers “operate within the economic and administrative framework of Israel and their goods should be treated accordingly,” he added in a statement.
The new policy could, however, have broader implications. Israel suspended plans to annex West Bank territory in return for its normalization deals with the Gulf states.
But designating settlement produce 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.
It was not immediately clear what, if any, practical effect Pompeo’s announcement on the new BDS policy might have on the BDS movement in the waning days of the Trump administration.
Many who embrace it see it 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 BDS, 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.