Nov 12, 2020 - World

Scoop: Pompeo plans unprecedented visit to West Bank settlement

Pompeo (L) and Netanyahu in Jerusalem. Photo: Jim Young/AFP via Getty

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is planning to visit the Golan Heights and an Israeli settlement in the West Bank next week, both firsts for a U.S. secretary of state.

Why it matters: Since 1967, all previous U.S. administrations have treated the West Bank and Golan Heights as occupied territory.

The big picture: The trip seems intended to highlight the Trump administration's policy shifts on Israel. For Pompeo, it also has domestic political significance ahead of a possible presidential run in 2024.

  • Pompeo has repeatedly highlighted his close links to Israel, including by addressing the Republican National Convention from Jerusalem.
  • He was also the first secretary of state to make an official visit to the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

How we got here: Last November, Pompeo annulled a State Department legal opinion from 1978 which deemed Israeli settlements in the West Bank “inconsistent with international law." He and U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman were the driving forces behind that shift.

  • Pompeo's announcement came a week after the EU high court had ruled that all EU member states must place a special label on goods originating from Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
  • That ruling came in response to an appeal by the owner of a winery in the Psagot settlement.
  • After Pompeo’s announcement, the owner of the winery named a new series of wine after Pompeo and sent him a case of wine bottles.

Pompeo is planning to visit that same winery next week. It's unclear whether it will be designated as an official visit or a private visit, or whether any Israeli officials will accompany him.

  • The U.S. embassy in Israel and the Israel's Shin Bet security agency have been preparing for the unprecedented trip.
  • A spokesperson said the State Department had nothing to add about the trip at this time.

Pompeo is also planning to visit the Golan Heights.

  • In March 2019, in a gesture that came days before an Israeli election, President Trump announced that the U.S. would recognize Israeli sovereignty over the region.
  • The Israeli government then established a new village named the “Trump Heights," though construction has yet to start 18 months later.
  • It's unclear whether Pompeo will visit the site of the new village.

What to watch: Pompeo will arrive in Israel next Wednesday. He's expected to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other officials, most likely including Minister of Defense Benny Gantz, Foreign Minister Gabbi Ashkenazi and Mossad chief Yossi Cohen.

  • Pompeo will arrive in Israel with his wife and they are expected to make a private visit at Qasr Al-Yahud — a Christian baptism sight in the Jordan River near Jericho in the West Bank.

Worth noting: The Falic family, owners of Duty Free America, are major investors in the winery Pompeo will visit. They're also Republican donors and have organized events Pompeo has attended as secretary of state.

  • Pompeo attended a dinner in Iowa sponsored by Simon Falic in July, according to author Joel Rosenberg, who wrote on his blog that Falic “encouraged Pompeo and the administration to help Israel make more of the Biblical heartland of Judea and Samaria part of the current state."
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