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Pompeo visits West Bank settlement, in first for a US secretary of state

Top diplomat stops at Psagot Winery as he heads to the Golan Heights in what will also be an unprecedented tour; announces US to label exports from settlements as Israeli

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman (L) and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (2nd L) during a visit to the Psagot Winery in the West Bank, on November 19, 2020. (State Department/Twitter)
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman (L) and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (2nd L) during a visit to the Psagot Winery in the West Bank, on November 19, 2020. (State Department/Twitter)

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday visited a West Bank winery, the first time a top American diplomat has visited an Israeli settlement.

The stopover came as Pompeo made his way to the Golan Heights, another first for a US secretary of state since Washington recognized Israeli sovereignty over the plateau.

Last year, US President Donald Trump’s administration  recognized Israeli sovereignty in the Golan — a move Pompeo on Thursday called “historically important and simply a recognition of the reality.”

Pompeo arrived at the Psagot winery, near the Israeli settlement of Psagot in the West Bank, a State Department official confirmed. The vineyard had named one of its wines after Pompeo, a salute to his announcement last year that the Trump administration would no longer see Israeli settlements in the West Bank as contrary to international law.

On the way there, he made a stop at Qasr el Yahud, revered as the site of the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan Valley, according to the same official.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives on board an Israeli airforce Blackhawk helicopter to visit the Golan Heights, near Merom Golan on the border with Syria, on November 19, 2020. ( JALAA MAREY / AFP)

On Wednesday after Pompeo’s planned visit was reported by media, dozens of Palestinians demonstrated near the winery, and some threw stones at soldiers guarding the entrance to the industrial zone where it is located. The Israeli Peace Now movement protested outside the winery Thursday as Pompeo arrived.

Video shared on social media apparently showed Pompeo coming in on an Israeli military helicopter.

“It is a blessing to be here in Judea and Samaria,” Pompeo wrote in the Psagot visitor’s book, using the Hebrew names for the West Bank area.

“May I not be the last Secretary of State to visit this beautiful land,” he wrote.

In a statement after the visit, Pompeo said the US will label exports from Jewish settlements as Israeli.

“All producers within areas where Israel exercises the relevant authorities…  will be required to mark goods as ‘Israel,’ ’Product of Israel,’ or ‘Made in Israel’  when exporting to the United States,” Pompeo said.

He said the new guidelines apply “most notably” to Area C, the part of the West Bank where Israel retains full civil and military control and where much of the settler population lives.

Pompeo’s announcement last year that the Trump administration would no longer consider Israeli settlements to be illegal was hailed by the Psagot vineyard, which has been fighting to keep the label “Israel” on its bottles, rather than the phrase “Israeli settlements” demanded by several European court rulings.

Israeli winemaker Yaakov Berg holds a bottle of his red blend named after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the Psagot Winery in the industrial park of Sha’ar Binyamin (Emmanuel DUNAND / AFP)

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.”

Pompeo earlier Thursday announced another strongly pro-Israel policy, stating that from now Washington would designate as “anti-Semitic” the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, which seeks to isolate Israel over its treatment of the Palestinians.

“We will immediately take steps to identify organizations that engage in hateful BDS conduct and withdraw US government support for such groups,” Pompeo said in a joint press briefing with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“We want to stand with all other nations that recognize the BDS movement for the cancer that it is,” Pompeo said.

Netanyahu thanked Pompeo for his “unwavering support” of Israel, first as CIA director and then as secretary of state, saying that under US President Donald  Trump the US-Israeli relationship had “reached unprecedented heights.”

Israel sees BDS as a strategic threat and has long accused it of anti-Semitism, and a law passed in 2017 allows Israel to ban foreigners with links to BDS. Activists strongly deny the charge, comparing the embargo to the economic isolation that helped bring down apartheid in South Africa.

Following the Thursday morning press conference, Pompeo toured the City of David archeological site, located in East Jerusalem just outside the walls of the Old City, posting images from the visit to his official Twitter feed.

Pompeo — who has so far backed Trump in his refusal to concede defeat to President-elect Joe Biden — is on what is likely his final Europe and Middle East tour in the post.

He had no scheduled meetings with Palestinian leaders, who have strongly rejected Trump’s stance on the decades-old conflict, including Washington’s recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.

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