US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was Thursday set to make the first visit by an American top diplomat to the Israel-occupied Golan Heights after an expected stop in a West Bank Jewish settlement, infuriating Palestinians.
The envoy of US President Donald Trump, who has made a staunchly pro-Israel stance a hallmark of his turbulent term in power, also called the pro-Palestinian BDS movement a “cancer” that Washington would label as anti-Semitic.
After meeting close ally Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Pompeo announced that “today I will get a chance to visit the Golan Heights,” the strategic territory the Jewish state seized from Syria in the Six-Day War of 1967.
Last year, Trump’s administration made the controversial decision to recognise Israeli sovereignty in the Golan — a move Pompeo on Thursday called “historically important and simply a recognition of the reality”.
Pompeo also announced a new strongly pro-Israeli policy, stating that from now Washington would designate as “anti-Semitic” the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, which seeks to isolate Israel over its treatment of the Palestinians.
“We will immediately take steps to identify organisations that engage in hateful BDS conduct and withdraw US government support for such groups,” Pompeo said in a joint appearance with Netanyahu.
“We want to stand with all other nations that recognise the BDS movement for the cancer that it is.”
Israel sees BDS as a strategic threat and has long accused it of anti-Semitism, and a law passed in 2017 allows Israel to ban foreigners with links to BDS.
Activists strongly deny the charge, comparing the embargo to the economic isolation that helped bring down apartheid in South Africa.
West Bank visit
Pompeo — who has so far backed Trump in refusing to concede defeat to President-elect Joe Biden — is on what could be his final Europe and Middle East tour in the post.
He has no scheduled meetings with Palestinian leaders, who have strongly rejected Trump’s stance on the decades-old conflict, including Washington’s recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.
Pompeo was Thursday also expected to become the first US top diplomat to visit a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank, where a vineyard has named one of its wines after him.
Palestinians have angrily denounced the expected visit to the Psagot winery near Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority.
Dozens of Palestinians demonstrated from Wednesday in Al-Bireh, and some threw stones at soldiers guarding the entrance to the settlers’ industrial zone.
Israeli planning and building of settlements in the Palestinian territories has boomed under successive Netanyahu governments and especially since Trump took office in 2017.
Pompeo said a year ago that the United States no longer considers Israeli settlements in the West Bank to be contrary to international law.
Pompeo and Netanyahu stood by the previous day when Bahrain’s foreign minister called for fresh Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
Bahrain’s Abdellatif al-Zayani said the historic US-brokered deals the Gulf kingdom and the United Arab Emirates had struck to normalise ties with Israel would help foster a dawn of “peace for the entire Middle East”.
“To achieve and consolidate such a peace, the Palestinian and Israeli conflict needs to be resolved,” the minister said. “I therefore call for both parties to get around the negotiating table to achieve a viable two-state solution.”
Trump’s outgoing administration has made isolating arch foe Iran a centrepiece of its regional policy.
The US and Israel — along with Gulf states the UAE, Bahrain and notably Saudi Arabia — share a strong animosity toward Shiite Muslim regional power Iran.
They accuse the Islamic republic of seeking to build a nuclear bomb, fuelling unrest from Syria and Iraq to Lebanon and Yemen, and of seeking the destruction of Israel.
Pompeo warned the Islamic republic in comments Wednesday that the deals the UAE and Bahrain have reached with Israel showed “its influence in the region is waning”.