Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday became the first top U.S. diplomat to visit an Israeli settlement in the West Bank, as the State Department announced that products from the settlements can be labeled “Made in Israel” in a major policy shift.
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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.
The new State Department guidelines "ensure that country of origin markings for Israeli and Palestinian goods are consistent with our reality-based foreign policy approach," the official statement said.
"In accordance with this announcement, all producers within areas where Israel exercises the relevant authorities – most notably Area C under the Oslo Accords – will be required to mark goods as 'Israel,' 'Product of Israel,' or 'Made in Israel' when exporting to the United States."
According to this approach, the statement said, "Area C producers operate within the economic and administrative framework of Israel and their goods should be treated accordingly." Goods produced elsewhere in the West Bank, in areas under Palestinian control, will be marked as products of "West Bank," while Gazan goods will be products of "Gaza." Previously, products from either territory were sometimes marked "West Bank/Gaza."
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Earlier on Thursday, Pompeo met in Jerusalem with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and said that the current U.S. administration recognizes that "settlements could be done in a way that [is] lawful and appropriate and proper."
Pompeo, on the second of his three-day official vist, also hailed U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem as "the simple fact of recognizing reality."
Pompeo's itinerary for Thursday also included a visit to the Golan Heights, in a break from prior U.S. State Department policy regarding visits to disputed regions.
Later on Thursday, Syria called on the international community and the UN to condemn the "provocative" visit, which it said violated international resolutions, a government source was quoted on state media as saying.
During his press briefing with Netanyahu, Pompeo also announced that the State Department will "regard the global anti-Israel BDS campaign as antisemitic," referring to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.
“It seems like a statement of fact… but we will immediately take steps to identify organizations that engage in hateful BDS conduct and withdraw U.S. support for such groups,” Pompeo added.
Pompeo did not provide additional details about the initiative, and it was unclear what organizations would be at risk of losing funding. Israelis have accused international groups like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International of supporting BDS, allegations they deny.
With U.S. President-elect Joe Biden to take office in January, it is unclear whether this measure will be enacted during the final months of the current administration.
In a statement, the BDS movement reiterated its rejection of “all forms of racism, including anti-Jewish racism,” and accused the United States and Israel of trying to silence advocacy for Palestinian rights.
“The BDS movement for Palestinian freedom, justice and equality, stands with all those struggling for a more dignified, just and beautiful world," it said. "With our many partners, we shall resist these McCarthyite attempts to intimidate and bully Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights defenders into accepting Israeli apartheid and settler-colonialism as fate.”
U.S.-based Human Rights Watch denounced Pompeo's announcement, saying he had falsely equated peaceful support for boycotts of Israel with antisemitism.
"Instead of combating systemic racism and far-right extremism in the United States, the Trump administration is undermining the common fight against the scourge of antisemitism by equating it with peaceful advocacy of boycotts," said Eric Goldstein, the group's acting Middle East and North Africa director.
'Remarkable' U.S. administration
Netanyahu called their meeting "productive" and praised the outgoing U.S. President Donald Trump and his "remarkable" team, saying that under his administration, Israel's alliance with the United States reached an unprecedented height.
He cited a string of developments pushed by Trump during his term, including the embassy move, recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, the administration's Mideast plan, its Iran sanction policy and the normalization deals it facilitated with Gulf states. "Israel is deeply grateful for all that President Trump has done," Netanyahu said.
Pompeo arrived at the Psagot settlement and its winery, near Ramallah, around noon on Thursday. He was later joined by Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi for a visit to Mt. Bental, which overlooks the Syrian border, in the Golan Heights.
He also made an unusual visit to Qasr al-Yahud in the West Bank, believed to be the original site of the baptism of Jesus.
Nabil Abu Rudeina, spokesman of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) condemned Pompeo’s visit to the Psagot settlement and the designation of settlement products as Israeli products: “This is a blatant challenge to all the decisions of the international community and a continuation of the Trump administration’s policy of seeking to be an active partner in the occupation of the Palestinian territories.
Abu Rudeina asserted Pompeo’s visit “does not legitimize the settlement enterprise that will be dismantled sooner or later.” Abu Rudeina called on the UN Security Council and the international community to take initiative and work to implement its resolutions, especially Resolution 2334, which was approved at the end of former U.S. President Obama’s term.
Pompeo landed in Israel on Wednesday, coinciding with the arrival of Bahrain's Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani. They spoke alongside Netanyahu in Jerusalem, where al-Zayani said the normalization agreement between Bahrain and Israel “will pave the way for a dawn of peace for the entire region” and called for renewing negotiations with the Palestinians based on a two-state solution.
Pompeo’s West Bank and Golan visits follow the Trump administration’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights and Pompeo’s declaration that Israel’s West Bank settlements were “not per se inconsistent with international law,” both in 2019.
Pompeo’s remarks came after the European Court of Justice ruled that products from Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Golan Heights must be labeled as such. This verdict came after a ruling by a French court not to enforce a European Union directive regarding the labeling of wine from the Psagot Winery.
The European court ruled that instead of products being labeled as products of Israel, labels should state that production was carried out in “Israeli settlements.” The ruling also stated that a lack of such labeling was misleading to consumers.
The U.S. State Department condemned the European court’s ruling last November, saying in a statement: “The circumstances surrounding the labeling requirement in the specific facts presented to the Court are suggestive of anti-Israel bias.” It added that “The United States unequivocally opposes any effort to engage in BDS, or to otherwise economically pressure, isolate, or otherwise delegitimize Israel.” After the statement was released, the Psagot Winery named a wine after Pompeo.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.