United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an unprecedented move last Thursday, November 19, when he became the first high-ranking U.S. diplomat to visit Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Golan Heights. According to BBC News, he visited the Psagot winery located in an Israeli settlement in the West Bank, the owners of which are donors to the Trump administration. Although the international community considers it illegally-occupied territory, the Trump administration recognized Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights last year. Associated Press reports that in a joint appearance with Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, Pompeo affirmed that “This is a part of Israel.”
The West Bank and Golan Heights were both seized by Israel during the 1967 war, but the international community, including the United Nations and European Union, has never recognized Israeli sovereignty over these territories. Despite this, Israel has established settlements in both territories, an act that international human rights groups such as Amnesty International consider a war crime and violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Amnesty International claims that Israeli settlement policy violates many international treaties to which Israel is a party and deprives the Palestinian people of their human rights, such as restricting their freedom of movement.
In 2016, the UN Security Council passed a resolution condemning Israeli settlements stating that they “had no legal validity, constituting a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the vision of two States living side-by-side in peace and security.” The EU states that “settlement building anywhere in the occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, is illegal under international law.” As of today, the West Bank is home to almost 500,000 Israeli settlers.
Secretary of State Pompeo stated that products made in West Bank settlements can be labeled “Made in Israel” and all products produced in Palestinian territories should be labeled “West Bank” or “Gaza” rather than “Made in Palestine.” Pompeo furthered that the State Department plans to designate the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement as anti-Semitic, reports Al Jazeera. The BDS movement is a non-violent campaign aimed at pressuring Israel’s government to end the occupation of the West Bank, inspired by the anti-Apartheid boycott movement towards South Africa. The movement, however, has had no significant impact on Israeli policy and has repeatedly been associated with anti-Semitism. Leaders of the BDS movement denounced Pompeo’s move and reiterated their rejection of “all forms of racism, including anti-Jewish racism,” reports AP.
Earlier this year, Mike Pompeo played an instrumental role in the normalization of relations between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain, collectively known as the Abraham Accords. The Trump administration has been considered the most pro-Israel administration in decades ever since the administration’s internationally criticized decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, recognizing the city as Israel’s capital in 2017.
During Pompeo’s visit, the Palestinian territory of Gaza declared COVID-19 a disaster for its already strained health system, reports Al Jazeera. Palestinian health officials say that they have “entered the catastrophe stage” and do not have the resources to test and treat the almost one million people who live in the Gaza Strip. Nearly 15,000 people have tested positive for the virus with 65 reported dead. However, due to lack of testing, these numbers are estimated to be much higher than reported. The Palestinian Authority failed to impose any effective measures due to a lack of resources.
The Gaza Strip is currently under an air and sea blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt, cutting the region off from essential equipment such as ventilators, basic drugs, PPE, and laboratory materials. Officials say that while Egypt has agreed to allow supplies in, Israel refuses to relieve the blockade and allow for the inflow of aid supplies. Palestinian spokespeople are calling Israel’s blockade a “death sentence” for Gaza’s COVID-19 patients.