Politics & Policy

Pompeo Declares Golan Heights ‘Part of Israel,’ in First Visit by U.S. Secretary of State

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a news conference at the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C., September 21, 2020. (Patrick Semansky/Pool via Reuters)
Pompeo also became the first secretary of state to visit an Israeli settlement in the West Bank.

GOLAN HEIGHTS — In a show of support for Israel’s sovereignty, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday visited Mount Bental in the Golan Heights, the territory that Israel has controlled since seizing it from Syria during the Six-Day War in 1967. He is the first U.S. secretary of state to visit the territory.

“This is a part of Israel, a central part of Israel,” he said, during joint statements with Israeli foreign minister Gabi Ashkenazi.

The Trump administration in 2019 recognized Israeli sovereignty over the territory, though much of the world condemns Israel’s claim as an illegal occupation. Israel and the United States maintain that Israeli sovereignty over Golan is justified because it was taken in a defensive war and that it is a crucial part of Israel’s national security.

Pompeo spent the day touring the country, where he unveiled several post-election initiatives to bolster U.S.-Israel ties. Stopping at the settlement of Psagot, he also became the first secretary of state to visit an Israeli settlement in the West Bank.

“We will honor your right to defend your own people,” he said to Ashkenazi during his remarks at Mount Bental.

Ashkenazi and Pompeo spoke to the backdrop of the Syrian border, which is just over a mile from the mountaintop, a Syrian-turned-Israeli military post that now functions as a tourism center.

The territory remains a target for military action by Syrian and Iranian forces. Just ahead of Pompeo’s arrival in Israel on Wednesday, the Israeli Air Force struck targets in Syria in retaliation for landmines that had been placed on the Israeli side of the border.

At Mount Bental, the secretary of state participated in briefings on the military situation led by Avigdor Kahalani, a distinguished former Israel Defense Forces brigadier general who was a tank commander in the 1967 war.

Pompeo mentioned that he was looking forward to visiting Golan Heights earlier in the day, during a joint appearance with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The planned visits to Golan and Psagot were first reported by Axios.

Following his earlier appearance at Psagot, the State Department issued new guidelines on the labeling of products from Israel and the Palestinian territories to be “consistent with our reality-based foreign policy approach.” Under the new rules, all products from the portion of the West Bank that includes Psagot will be marked as made in Israel. In 2019, the State Department issued a legal opinion stating that Israel’s settlements do not violate international law.

The move came following the European Court of Justice’s ruling last November that products made in the settlements be labeled as such. After the State Department issued its legal opinion, the Psagot Winery named one of its blends after the U.S. secretary of state.

When the top official arrived at the vineyard for lunch and a tour, the proprietor greeted him with bottles of Pompeo Wine, according to a tweet by Walla News’ Barak Ravid.

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