In series of firsts, secretary of state to visit West Bank winery, travel to Golan Heights
Palestinian Authority officials are enraged by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s plan for a visit this week to an Israeli-operated winery near Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which are considered illegal by most of the world.
Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman for PA President Mahmoud Abbas, said on Sunday that Israel was “trying to benefit from the unlimited support” of the Trump Administration “for the sake of settlement expansion and the takeover of more Palestinian lands” in the West Bank.
“This American administration has become a fundamental partner in the occupation of the Palestinian lands. Neither this visit nor any US support for Israeli settlements in Palestinian lands can give legitimacy to the settlements or change the fact that they are doomed to end.”
PA Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said on Friday that the visit would set a “dangerous precedent” in violation of international law, calling it a way to “legitimize the settlements.”
On Monday, Pompeo is scheduled to visit the Psagot Winery, located about four miles southeast of a settlement of the same name, which itself is just east of the city of Ramallah in the West Bank.
It will mark the first time a secretary of state travels to a settlement area in contradiction to the policies of previous US administrations. It comes exactly one year after he announced that Washington no longer considered settlements illegal.
The decision puts the US at odds with UN Security Council resolutions and almost all other countries aside from Israel.
He will also be the first secretary of state to travel to the Golan Heights, whose de facto annexation by Israel was recognized by President Donald Trump in March 2019.
Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, a member of Palestine Liberation Organization Executive Committee, told The Media Line in a statement that Pompeo’s visit represented a violation of international law.
“It is a participation in the war crime that Israeli settlement constitutes under international law,” she said.
Ashrawi has threatened to submit an official Palestinian complaint to the United Nations against Pompeo, saying such a visit “reflects the aggressive and lawless behavior of the [Trump] Administration in its endeavor to reap the largest number of gains for Israel before leaving the White House.”
Trump implemented a radical shift from past administrations’ policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in December 2017 and relocated the US Embassy to the city in May 2018, leading the Palestinians to sever ties with his administration.
Mustafa Barghouti, secretary-general of the Palestinian National Initiative, a political party, told The Media Line that although the Trump Administration will soon be out of office, it is continuing to act against the Palestinian cause and prove that it is “not an honest broker.”
“This is a violation of international law,” he stated.
“One more time, Trump and his administration make themselves participants in the violation of international law by Israel, and this shows how dangerous the coming 68 days are [before a Biden administration enters office], because Trump and his team can commit any kind of aggressive actions against the Palestinian people, of course with the encouragement of [Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu,” Barghouti said.
The Palestinians must “be alert, and we have to do everything we can to stop this administration from carrying out more serious aggressions,” he added.
Ashrawi says the Trump Administration “insists on supporting the acceleration of settlement expansion in the occupied Palestinian territories in a manner that expresses the apex of immorality and distorts political and legal positions in the service of Israel.”
Pompeo’s trip comes two months before the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, a past critic of settlements who has pledged to put more diplomatic effort into creating a Palestinian state.
The Psagot Winery was at the center of a dispute when it unsuccessfully challenged a European Union decision to label all products from settlements in the Palestinian territories as not originating in Israel. Psagot later rolled out a limited edition of wine named after Pompeo in appreciation of his position.
Hassan Awwad, a US-based expert on the Middle East, told The Media Line that the visit will complicate matters before Biden takes office.
“It will make the job of the incoming administration more difficult as it tries to kick-start peace talks between the two sides,” he explained.
Awwad argues that Pompeo is acting to advance his personal ambitions.
“He is thinking about his own political future and is looking ahead to 2024. That explains his action, which is aimed at pleasing the evangelical base,” he noted.
Barghouti was more cutting in his criticism.
“All politicians think about their own interest, and he [Pompeo] is no different, but the more important question is why there’s such a base of racists in the United States who support the worst kinds of violations of human rights and the worst kind of violations of international law.”
Israel’s settlement enterprise is a prominent aspect of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and one of the main reasons the PLO suspended peace negotiations in 2014.
Pompeo’s 10-day tour of the region also includes stops in Turkey, Georgia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.