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On Thursday, Mike Pompeo became the first U.S. Secretary of State to visit an Israeli West Bank settlement and the Golan Heights, a move that led Palestinians to accuse him of helping cement Israeli control over the occupied territory.
Pompeo's unprecedented trip to the occupied West Bank and Golan Heights, alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, came as the last leg of quite possibly his last Middle East tour in the final months of President Donald Trump's administration.
During Trump's administration, not only has the U.S. recognized Israeli's claims sovereignty over the Golan Heights, but it has also announced that it no longer viewed Israel's settlements in the West Bank as "inconsistent with international law." These and other decisions have been greeted with dismay by Palestinians, who have announced they would resume normal relations with the future Biden administration. However, it may be unclear whether his administration will reverse Trump's decisions.
Pompeo, alongside Netanyahu on Thursday, said that both he and Trump are close friends of Israel. The two discussed the perceived "threat" of Iran and Israel's unification with other Arab Gulf states over their "fear" of Iran.
Pompeo also announced that goods produced in the occupied territories and exported to the United States would be labeled "Made in Israel" or "Product of Israel," removing the distinction of goods produced in Israel from those originating in the occupied West Bank.
The Secretary of States' visit departed from a past policy that had kept top U.S. officials away from settlements, which Palestinians see as obstacles to a viable future state. Meanwhile, the European Union clearly labels any products from these areas as coming from the settlements, which the bloc considers illegal under international law.
On the other hand, Palestinians in the area say the land is Palestinian-owned and has been passed down from generation to generation. Musa Jwayyed, a Palestinian-American who sits on the city council of Al-Bireh, said, "I am a U.S. citizen, a taxpayer, educated, loyal, ok? Why do these settlers have more rights than I do?"
All in a day's work: Make it State Department policy that the BDS movement is "antisemitic"; label goods produced in West Bank settlements as "made in Israel"; make an unprecedented visit to an illegal settlement built on Palestinian land. https://t.co/5gKJDtsDYv
Afterward, Pompeo flew to the Golan Heights, which overlooks Israel, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan. During his visit, he said, "I very much wanted to come here on this trip to tell the world that we have it right. That we, the United States has it right. That Israel has it right," from a hilltop looking into an area of the Syrian Golan that was until recently controlled by militias fighting the Syrian civil war.
Although Pompeo maintained that "each nation has the right to defend itself in its own sovereignty," which left many Israeli's backing Trump's bid for re-election, Palestinian negotiator Hanan Ashrawi accused Pompeo of using Trump's final weeks in office "to set yet another illegal precedent, violate international law and perhaps to advance his own future political ambitions."