The US Secretary of State becomes the first senior American official to visit an illegal Israeli settlement in the West Bank.

It happened over the clatter of wine glasses filled with a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot called Pompeo - named after the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo.  

Pompeo on Thursday became the first senior American diplomat to visit an illegal Israeli settlement in the West Bank. 

Just weeks away from potentially departing office, he announced that from now on, the US will allow the import of products grown or manufactured in the settlements with the label of “Made in Israel”. 

That’s a stark deviation from decades-old American policy, which dictated such goods be marked as coming from the West Bank, giving a choice to the customers who oppose Israeli occupation and don’t want to buy anything made there. 

Rights activists and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which seeks an end to the occupation of Palestinian land, have for years lobbied to put checks on economic exploitation by Jewish businesses in settlement areas. 

Since 1967, when Israel occupied the West Bank, right-wing Jewish settlers have built more than a hundred residential communities and businesses on farm land that once belonged to Palestinian Arabs. 

Around 700,000 Jewish settlers live in the settlements, which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to annex and make part of his country.  The West Bank is home to 2.5 million Arabs. 

In the eyes of the international community, the settlements are illegal and built in violation of the UN Security Council resolutions. Palestinians hope to include the West Bank in a future state of their own.  

The European Union (EU) still doesn’t allow products made in the occupied West Bank to be labelled as “Made in Israel”. 

Netanyahu has been continuously backed by outgoing US President Donald Trump in his attempt to annex the territory. 

A criminal blend 

In what might be his last trip to Israel as US foreign policy czar, Pompeo visited the Psagot settlement and attended a private lunch organised by the Psagot Winery, which has been fighting against the labelling requirement. 

Psagot Winery is owned by the Florida-based Falic Family, which has financed Trump and Netanyahu election campaigns. Last year, the winery named one of its blends after Pompeo after he announced the US no longer considered the settlements illegal. 

Pompeo said that his decision was a reflection of the “reality” on the ground where Israelis are in control of most of the West Bank. He also railed against BDS, calling it a “cancer” and its activities anti-Semitic. 

US officials plan to withdraw State Department funding and support from any organisation with ‘links’ to the movement. 

BDS supporters say that such a description of its activities is an attempt to stop the group from highlighting Israeli atrocities. 

Even though the labelling rules don’t stop the wines and other products made in the settlements from being exported, Psagot Winery had vigorously campaigned against it. 

Last year, the EU’s top court rejected Psagot’s appeal to let it sidestep the labelling requirement. 

The Zionist project, which settled hundreds of thousands of European Jews in Palestine, is closely linked with the wine industry. It was Baron Edmond James de Rothschild who funded one of the first Jewish wineries in the late 19th century.

As part of his trip, Pompeo also visited the Golan Heights, another area illegally occupied by Israel. Here again, politics and wine blend in a controversial way. 

After Israel took the rocky plateau from Syria, Jewish settlers moved there and began growing fruits. In the 1980s, they started producing wines. The wineries subsequently opposed negotiations with Damascus that could result in Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights. 

Career American diplomats were against Pompeo’s visit since US President-elect Joe Biden could take office in January and try to negotiate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict under his own vision. 

Source: TRT World