Pompeo reshapes US policy toward Israel with visit to a settlement vineyard

PSAGOT, West Bank – That would have been out of the question under any other US administration.

But Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is no stranger to breaking with decades of tradition of US foreign policy on land claimed by Palestinians and on Thursday became the highest-ranking US official to visit an Israeli settlement. in the occupied West Bank when he visited the Psagot Winery in the hills outside Jerusalem.

His trip to Israel was filled with policy-changing announcements on the US approach to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement and the labeling of products made in parts of the West Bank – lands claimed by the Palestinians – as “made in Israel”.

“It is difficult for me to express how we feel about the secretary of state and what he has done for the Jewish people,” winery owner Yaakov Berg told NBC News.

He added that Pompeo was the first US secretary of state to make it clear that the land “is Israel.”

Most of the international community regards settlements as illegal, based on the principle of the Geneva Convention that an occupying power is prohibited from transferring its population to territories won by war. Israel seized the West Bank from Jordan in its 1967 war with its Arab neighbors.

Last year, in a case involving the winery, Europe’s top court ruled that countries must identify products made in Israeli settlements.

Israel fiercely rejected the decision of the European Court of Justice, saying it was political, discriminatory against the country and diminished the chances of peace.

But it was a blow for the Berg company, which produces 600,000 bottles a year and exports 70%.

Image: Yaakov Berg
Yaakov Berg, owner of the Psagot winery near the Palestinian city of Ramallah in the West Bank.Emmanuel Dunand / AFP via Getty Images file

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However, days after the European decision, Pompeo announced that the United States was reversing its decades-old policy that Israeli settlements in the West Bank were illegal. Washington would no longer take a position on the legality of any settlements, leaving the decision to Israeli courts, he said.

In gratitude, Berg named Pompeo after a “special” wine, made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot grapes.

“The message from the US administration is extremely important and reinforces our ongoing fight against the campaign of boycott and hypocrisy launched by the European Court of Justice,” Berg said in a post on the Psagot Winery website explaining the context of wine. “We will continue this just and moral struggle.”

Visiting the winery on Thursday, Pompeo not only attempted to lend legitimacy to Israeli settlements, but also brought with him more tangible gifts.

In a statement, he said the United States would require all producers in Area C of the West Bank to mark goods as “made in Israel,” or similar, when exporting to America.

Area C – where the winery is located – represents about 60% of the West Bank where Israel has near total control and where most Jewish settlements are located.

Pompeo also announced that the State Department would now consider the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which calls for the boycott of goods made in Israeli settlements, to be anti-Semitic and punish those who support it.

BDS said it had “constantly and categorically” rejected all forms of racism.

Meanwhile, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said last week that Pompeo’s visit sets a “dangerous precedent” that “legalizes settlements.”

Image: A worker pours wine into a barrel at the Psagot winery in the Israeli settlement of Psagot adjacent to the Palestinian city of Ramallah in the West Bank.
A worker pours wine into a barrel at the Psagot winery in the Israeli settlement of Psagot, adjacent to the Palestinian West Bank city of Ramallah.Emmanuel Dunand / AFP via Getty Images file

The Psagot Winery is located in an industrial area built by settlers not far from the Palestinian city of Ramallah. Its vineyards are scattered across the West Bank on land claimed by the Palestinians.

Odeh Hamayel, said his 90-year-old grandfather, an American citizen, owns more than four acres of land which was confiscated to expand the Psagot settlement.

NBC has seen documents that show Hamayel’s grandfather owns land where the Psagot settlement is now built. NBC, however, could not verify that it was used by Psagot Winery.

“Where are my rights when my land, as an American citizen for over 50 years, was confiscated so that an Israeli settler could open a business and profit from it,” Hamayel said, mimicking what his grandfather could say if they had the opportunity to meet Pompeo.

“When Pompeo decides he’s going to set foot in this settlement bloc, he’s stepping into something that violates international law,” Hamayel added, speaking for himself. “He should know better.”

Paul Goldman reported from Psagot Winery, Lawahez Jabari from Al-Bireh in the West Bank and Saphora from London, England.

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