Pompeo’s visit to the occupied West Bank marks a major shift in US policy towards Israel

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday became the first senior US diplomat to visit an Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank, as the State Department announced that products from the settlements could be labeled “Made in Israel” as part of of a major policy change. Both measures 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.

“All producers in areas where Israel exercises competent authority … will be required to mark goods as ‘Israel’, ‘Product of Israel’ or ‘Made in Israel’ when exporting to the United States,” he said. Pompeo said in a statement. Thursday, as reported by Agence France-Presse (AFP). He said the new guidelines apply “in particular” to Area C, the large part of the West Bank where Israel retains full civilian and military control and where much of the settler population lives.

Over 460,000 Israeli settlers reside in the occupied West Bank and over 220,000 live in annexed East Jerusalem.

Israel seized the West Bank and East Jerusalem in the 1967 war, territories the Palestinians want for their future state. Since then, he has built some 130 settlements and dozens of small outposts, ranging from clusters of mobile homes on isolated hills to fully developed towns.

Pompeo also announced that the United States would label the Palestinian-led international boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement “anti-Semitic” and bar any group that participates in it from receiving government funding. It was not immediately clear which groups would be affected by the move.

BDS organizers present their movement as a non-violent way to protest Israel’s policy towards the Palestinians, modeled on the campaign that helped end apartheid in South Africa. 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 the defense of Palestinian rights.

Last November, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that European countries must label products originating in settlements. The decision came after Psagot Winery, which produces 600,000 bottles a year and exports 70% of them from the illegal settlement where it is located, challenged an earlier decision. Israel blasted the decision to make the tags mandatory, saying it was unfair, discriminatory and would embolden the Palestinian-led boycott movement. A week after the decision, Pompeo announced that the United States no longer considers Israeli settlements in the West Bank a violation of international law, reversing four decades of American policy.

Pompeo’s visit on Thursday marks a dramatic break with previous administrations, Democrats and Republicans, which frequently chastised Israel for building settlements — to little effect. President Donald Trump has already broken with his predecessors by recognizing disputed Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and repudiating the decades-old US position that settlements are incompatible with international law. The administration also acknowledged Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, seized from Syria in the 1967 war, where Pompeo could also pay a visit.

Trump’s plan for the Middle East, which overwhelmingly favored Israel and was immediately rejected by the Palestinians, would have allowed Israel to annex almost a third of the West Bank, including all of its settlements.

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