Mike Pompeo became the first US secretary of state to visit an Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank on Thursday, making a strong show of support for Israel in the Trump administration’s final days. Pompeo also visited the Golan Heights, another unprecedented move for a top US diplomat.
The Trump administration recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights in 2019. The territory was seized from Syria in 1967 and formally annexed by Israel in 1981, although no other countries recognized the territory as Israeli until the US changed its policy.
“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 said from Golan. “This is a part of Israel.”
Pompeo took a shot at Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during the visit. “Imagine with Assad in control of this place, the risk of the harm to the West and to Israel,” he said. Assad’s government denounced Pompeo’s visit, calling it a “flagrant violation” of Syria’s sovereignty.
Another major policy change the Trump administration gave Israel was reversing the US stance on Jewish settlements in the West Bank. In 2019, the administration said the US no longer considers settlements illegal, breaking with the international community. At a press conference in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Pompeo said the US had historically taken “the wrong view of settlements.”
Pompeo announced two more pro-Israel policies on Thursday as a parting gift to Israel from the Trump administration. Pompeo said products made in Israeli settlements in the West Bank can be labeled as “Made in Israel,” and called the change “recognizing reality.”
Pompeo also announced that the State Department will designate the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement as “anti-Semitic.” BDS is a Palestinian-led international campaign that calls on people to pressure Israel for its human rights abuses and occupation of Palestine through various boycotts. Under the new policy, the US will “identify organizations” that engage in BDS and “withdraw US government support for such groups.”