Pompeo became the 1st top U.S. diplomat to visit an Israeli settlement in what some have declared to be an unprecedented move in American foreign policy. Following his visit to the settlements, Pompeo stood alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyu to declare that they were not de facto illegal under international law and that their legality should be left up to Israel’s court system to determine. Pompeo reasoned, “For a long time, the State Department took… a view that didn’t recognize the history of this special place. Today the United States Department of State stands strongly to the recognition that settlements can be done in a way that are lawful and appropriate and proper.” He later went on to address that the U.S. would label any Palestinian-led boycott movement against Israel as “anti-Semetic” and released guidelines that stipulated that Israeli products made in Area C of the West Bank would be labeled “Made in Israel” as opposed to “Made in the West Bank.” The Trump Administration has also moved the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and annexed the disputed territory of Golan Heights.
The National Council for Young Israel (NCYI) applauded Pompeo for his stance on the Israeli settlements and on the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, which he called a “cancer” and would “immediately take steps to identify organizations that engage in hateful BDS conduct and withdraw U.S. government support for such groups.” The BDS is a Palestinian-led movement that promotes boycotts, divestments, and sanctions against Israel to pressure them to meet their obligations under International Law, including ending their occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied in 1967 and dismantling the Wall. Most political opponents of BDS have cited that the movement attacks Israel’s legitimacy, fostering antisemitism. The NCYI noted that the various anti-Israel activities employed by BDS activists is categorized as anti-Semitic, according to the working definition of anti-Semitism adopted adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and the current U.S. State Department. The NCYI wrote in a statement, “We commend Secretary of State Pompeo for the decision to push back against the delegitimization of Judea and Samaria, which is home to hundreds of thousands of Israel citizens.” The NCYI’s statement was in line with the Israeli argument that the settlements are justified by the thousand year old claim of the Jewish people to the land.
Paletinian official have shown outrage at Pompeo’s actions, claiming that the U.S. is legitimizing Israel’s illegal actions and are reducing Palestinians’ hopes for an independent state. Nabil Abu Rdeneh, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, accused the U.S. administration of “active participation in the occupation of Palestinian lands.” Since the land’s capture in 1967, Israeli settlements on the West Bank have been considered illegal under international law, as set forth by the Fourth Geneva Convention. Despite this, more than 130 formal settlements and 400,000 Israeli-citizens have moved to establish themselves there. The UN has been consistent in labeling the settlements as illegal, with the most recent official ruling of the UN International Court of Justice asserting in 2004 that the settlements violate international law. The transfer of Israel’s own population into Palestinian territory is also considered to be a war crime by the International Criminal Court. However, Trump’s Mideast plan overwhelmingly favors Israel and would allow Israel to annex up to a third of the West Bank, including all of its settlements. Other Palestinian leaders rebuked Pompeo’s decision to visit the settlements as well, though they were powerless in stopping it. PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi wrote in a twitter post that Pompeo was “trespassing on Palestinian land stolen by Israel for its illegal settler-colonial enterprise. You’ve done a lot of damage already. Just go away!” For now it remains to be seen how the international community will take action.