Pompeo is 1st top US diplomat to visit an Israeli settlement

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U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a joint statement with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo, Pool)

JERUSALEM – U.S. 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 in a major policy shift announced that products from the settlements can be labeled “Made in Israel.”

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.

Pompeo also announced that the U.S. 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.

Pompeo's announcements were largely symbolic and could be reversed by the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden, who has promised a more evenhanded approach to Israel and the Palestinians. Nonetheless, they illustrated the deep ties between the outgoing Trump administration and the hard-line government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In a Twitter post, Pompeo confirmed his visit to the Psagot winery, located in a settlement near Jerusalem, which released a blended red named for the secretary last year in gratitude for his stance on the settlements. 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 labeling efforts that facilitate the boycott of Israeli companies. The U.S. stands with Israel and will not tolerate any form of delegitimization.”

The European Union, like most of the world, opposes Israeli settlements and requires imports from the occupied territory to be labeled as coming from the West Bank.

Pompeo later visited the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 Mideast war and later annexed. In a break from the rest of the international community, the Trump administration recognized the territory as part of Israel last year.