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Pompeo expected to become 1st US secretary of state to visit W. Bank settlement

US diplomat’s trip to Israel next week will include a stop at Psagot Winery, as well as Golan Heights, according to multiple reports; Washington refuses to comment

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) speaks during a joint press conference with the Slovenian prime minister (unseen) after their meeting in Bled, in the foothills of the Julian Alps, August 13, 2020. (Jure Makovec/AFP)
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) speaks during a joint press conference with the Slovenian prime minister (unseen) after their meeting in Bled, in the foothills of the Julian Alps, August 13, 2020. (Jure Makovec/AFP)

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is expected to visit a West Bank settlement winery and the contested Golan Heights during a visit to Israel next week, according to multiple reports Thursday and Friday.

If true, the trip would make Pompeo the first US secretary of state to visit such locations on an official visit to Israel.

Pompeo’s plan was first reported by the Walla news site, citing unnamed officials in Jerusalem and in Washington with knowledge of the matter. Reporter Barak Ravid’s story was also published in English on the Axios news site. It was later reported by Haaretz, which cited “sources familiar with details” of the trip, as well as the Associated Press.

The reports said Pompeo plans to visit the Psagot Winery in the settlement of Psagot, near Ramallah, and that officials at the US Embassy in Israel and in the US Secret Service were making preparations for the trip.

The US State Department refused a Times of Israel request for comment on the trip.

A worker transports barrels of wine at Psagot Winery near the Israeli settlement of Psagot adjacent to the Palestinian West Bank city of Ramallah on November 19, 2019. (Emmanuel DUNAND / AFP)

The visit comes exactly one year after Pompeo said that the US did not consider Jewish settlements to be illegal, upending the long-held US policy toward the West Bank communities.

The Psagot winery named a bottle after Pompeo to thank him for the move in February, and issued a statement saying he had recognized “the Jewish right to self-determination in our historical homeland.”

The winery was at the center of a dispute last year as it unsuccessfully challenged a European decision to put a label on all products that come from settlements.

Last year, Pompeo visited the Western Wall in Jerusalem accompanied by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, becoming the first US secretary of state to visit the capital’s contested Old City accompanied by a senior Israeli official.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City on March 21, 2019. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

A prominent investor in Psagot Winery is Miami-based businessman Simon Falic, who is also a major donor to the Republican party and to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Pompeo will arrive in Israel on Wednesday, and will likely meet Netanyahu, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, according to Walla.

Pompeo’s Israel trip is part of a seven-nation tour of US allies, all of which have congratulated President-elect Joe Biden, despite Trump’s refusal to concede following his loss in last week’s election.

Pompeo has backed Trump as he refuses to concede, but Netanyahu congratulated Biden, who has known the Israeli leader for many years.

Pompeo said Tuesday that he would leave Friday for Paris and then head to Istanbul and the former Soviet republic of Georgia before visiting Jerusalem and the Gulf states of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

The trip will discuss Trump’s “historic efforts to forge peace and cooperation throughout the Middle East,” Pompeo told reporters.

He is expected to discuss raising further pressure on Iran in the remaining two months of the Trump administration, which in 2018 bolted from a multinational denuclearization accord with Tehran and imposed punishing unilateral sanctions.

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