Pompeo becomes 1st US top diplomat to visit Golan Heights, settlement

(Update: adds details of Pompeo visit to settlement, Palestinian reaction)

Jerusalem, Nov 19 (efe-epa).- The United States Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, on Thursday became the first high ranking US diplomat to visit the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and an Israeli settlement in the West Bank.

Pompeo visited the Jewish settlement of Psagot, south of the Palestinian city of Ramallah, where he was received at a vineyard that named one of its wines after him.

The State Department and the spokeswoman of the US Embassy in Israel did not comment on the visit, which was not officially confirmed before it took place, while no information about the visit was provided.

Shortly after the visit, the State Department announced a change in Washington’s policy toward products from settlements in Area C of the West Bank, with the order that when imported into the U.S. they be labeled as “Product of Israel” or “made in Israel.”

Palestinian presidential spokesperson Nabil Abu Rudeina condemned the visit to the settlement of Psagot which was “built on the land of Palestinian citizens in Jabal al Tawil, in the town of Al Bireh,” as well as the change in policy on identifying the origin of products made in occupied territory.

The decision, the spokesman said, is a “flagrant challenge to all international legitimacy and represents a continuation of the decisions of this administration, which insists on participating actively in the occupation of Palestinian lands,” the Palestinian state agency Wafa reported.

“We call on the international community, and specifically the United Nations Security Council, to assume its responsibilities and implement its decisions, especially Resolution 2334, which was taken with the approval of the previous Administration,” Rudeina said.

At a press conference with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, in Jerusalem on Wednesday morning ahead of the visit to Psagot, Pompeo had reiterated his support for settlements built on occupied Palestinian territory, which violate international law and are a major obstacle to stalled peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

The outgoing Secretary of State defended Trump’s legacy in the region, which has departed from previous US administrations – both Democrat and Republican – and has heavily favored Israel, saying they had achieved “incredible things.”

“The peace, the increased prosperity and the reduced risk to citizens (…) that we have accomplished together is historic,” Pompeo said.

“The simple fact of recognizing the reality of Jerusalem as the rightful, proper, true capital of Israel – it’s crazy that the US hadn’t done that for decades,” Pompeo said. “Then we moved our embassy. How simple, how right, how just.”

The US State Department – like the rest of the international community – has traditionally viewed the settlements built by Israel on territory recognized as part of the a potential future Palestinian state as illegal.

But Pompeo said his department’s new policy corrected “a wrong view (…) that didn’t recognize the history of this special place.”

“Instead now today the United States stands strongly to the recognition that settlements can be done in a way that’s lawful and appropriate and proper,” he said.

Pompeo is the first high-ranking US official to visit a settlement on an official trip. On Wednesday, he broke with another diplomatic tradition by visiting the City of David, an archeological dig in occupied Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem run by Israeli settlers.

Pompeo was also due to visit the Golan Heights, a resource-rich area that Israel has occupied from Syria since 1967. “The simple recognition of this as part of Israel was a decision President Trump made that is historically important and simply a recognition of the reality.”

He also lauded the Abraham Accords between Israel and two Gulf states Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, adding that he is “hopeful and confident there will be more” Arab countries establishing diplomatic ties with Israel.

“This will continue, because people are demanding peace. People are coming to me from all over the region, recognizing that the right thing to do is to recognize Israel…I am confident that this one-way movement towards peace will continue,” he said.

Pompeo also expressed hope that the peace between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan would help end the conflict with the Palestinians.

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