What happened: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited the Golan Heights and West Bank yesterday as part of his 3-day tour of Israel.
- In what has been described as a historic day, Pompeo also announced that all goods produced in settlements in the West Bank would be labelled as having been “made in Israel”.
- Pompeo started the day by visiting the Psagot Winery in the Binyamin region in the West Bank. After that, he and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi toured the Golan Heights, which included a stop at an observation post overlooking the Syrian Golan Heights from Mt. Bental.
- Pompeo said: “You can’t stand here and stare out at what’s across the border and deny the central thing that President Donald Trump recognized, what the previous presidents have refused to do.” Pompeo added: “Imagine with [Syrian President Bashar] Assad in control of this place, the risk of the harm to the West and to Israel”.
- Ashkenazi briefed Pompeo about the security situation on Israel’s borders with Lebanon and Syria. “I stressed that we won’t tolerate any violation of sovereignty in any area… or Iranian entrenchment, certainly not near the border,” the foreign minister later tweeted.
- Pompeo also announced that Washington would designate as “anti-Semitic” the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.
Context: Pompeo historic visits and policy announcements are occurring during the remaining few weeks of the Trump administration.
- It is believed that President Trump is trying to reinforce new US policy toward the settlements before US President-elect Joe Biden enters the White House on 20 January.
- Last year the US State Department declared that Israeli settlements in the West Bank are not “necessarily illegal”. The US move, under Pompeo, marked the rejection of the Obama administration’s abstaining of a 2016 UN security council resolution that said settlements in the West Bank are a “flagrant violation” of international law and the US legal position on the issue since 1978.
- Regarding the new US policy, Pompeo said it would “eliminate the confusion” for buyers as exports from the West Bank did not differentiate whether the producers were Israeli or Palestinian. US exports made in Areas A and B of the West Bank, under Palestinian Authority control will marked as “Made in the West Bank.” However, the new US guidelines indicate that goods made in Palestinian villages within Area C would also be labelled “made in Israel”. The US will also differentiate between goods made in Gaza and the West Bank.
- The US announcement was received with mixed reviews. President Mahmoud Abbas’s spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said Pompeo’s announcement “blatantly violates international law,” whilst a senior official in the president’s office in France said: “There is no cause to grant legitimacy to Israel’s settlement policy, which undermines the possibility of achieving the two-state solution.”
- Also this week, a historic first in which the Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani visited Israel. The foreign minister met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then attended meetings with President Reuven Rivlin, Ashkenazi and Pompeo.
Looking ahead: It is unclear whether the Biden administration will accept the new changes or will reverse them, but President-Elect Biden has been a long critic of Israeli settlement expansion.
- Whilst Pompeo appears to be doubling down on US policy to treat Israeli settlements as part of Israel, it may create unnecessary tension for the next US administration and the Israeli government.