Pompeo becomes first top US diplomat to visit an Israeli settlement

Jerusalem: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday became the first top American diplomat to visit an Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank as the State Department announced that products from the settlements can be labelled "Made in Israel" in a major policy shift.

The two moves reflected the Trump administration's acceptance of Israeli settlements, which the Palestinians and most of the international community view as a violation of international law and a major obstacle to peace.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, centre, arrives on Mount Bental in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights.Credit:AP

Pompeo also announced that the US would brand the international Palestinian-led boycott movement against Israel as "anti-Semitic" and bar any groups that participate in it from receiving government funding. It was not immediately clear which groups would be affected by the move.

In a Twitter post, Pompeo confirmed his visit to the Psagot winery, located in a settlement near Jerusalem. Reporters were not allowed to accompany him.

"Enjoyed lunch at the scenic Psagot Winery today," he tweeted. "Unfortunately, Psagot and other businesses have been targeted by pernicious EU labelling efforts that facilitate the boycott of Israeli companies. The US stands with Israel and will not tolerate any form of delegitimisation."

The European Union, like most of the world, opposes Israeli settlements and requires imports from the occupied territory to be labelled as such.

Pompeo later visited the Golan Heights. Israel seized the West Bank and the Golan Heights in the 1967 Mideast war and later annexed the Golan in a move that was not recognised internationally.

Pompeo had earlier announced the US would regard the Palestinian-led boycott movement as "anti-Semitic" and cut off government support for any organisations taking part in it, a step that could deny funding to Palestinian and international human rights groups.

"We will regard the global, anti-Israel BDS campaign as anti-Semitic," Pompeo said, referring to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

"We will immediately take steps to identify organisations that engage in hateful BDS conduct and withdraw US government support for such groups," he said, adding that all nations should "recognise the BDS movement for the cancer that it is."

BDS organisers cast their movement as a non-violent way of protesting Israel's policies toward the Palestinians modelled on the campaign that helped end apartheid in South Africa. The movement has had some limited success over the years, particularly on college campuses and with artists and entertainers, but no impact on the Israeli economy.

Israel views BDS as an assault on its very existence, and has seized on statements by some supporters to accuse it of anti-Semitism, allegations denied by organisers.

Benjamin Netanyahu, right, said the Israel-US alliance had reached “unprecedented heights” under the Trump administration.Credit:AP

Netanyahu thanked the administration for moving its embassy to contested Jerusalem, abandoning the US position that Israeli settlements are contrary to international law, recognising Israel's annexation of the Golan Heights and taking a hard line against Iran.

Israel captured east Jerusalem and the West Bank in the 1967 war. The Palestinians want both territories to be part of their future state and view the settlements as a violation of international law and an obstacle to peace – a position endorsed by most of the international community.

Nabil Abu Rdeneh, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, condemned Pompeo's visit to Psagot and embrace of settlement products, calling it a "flagrant challenge to international legitimacy decisions". He accused the outgoing US administration of "active participation in the occupation of Palestinian lands".

Trump's Mideast plan, which overwhelmingly favoured Israel and was rejected by the Palestinians, would allow Israel to annex up to a third of the West Bank, including all of its settlements there, which are home to nearly 500,000 Israelis.

"For a long time, the State Department took the wrong view of settlements," Pompeo said, but it now recognises that "settlements can be done in a way that (is) lawful, appropriate and proper".

Neither Netanyahu nor Pompeo said anything about the US election. Pompeo, like Trump, has yet to acknowledge President-elect Joe Biden's victory. Netanyahu congratulated Biden and referred to him as the President-elect in an official statement earlier this week.

AP

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