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The significance of Pompeo’s ‘unprecedented’ trip to the occupied West Bank

On Thursday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo became the first American of his position to visit the Golan Heights and a settlement in the occupied West Bank. While there, Pompeo also announced major shifts in U.S. policy regarding Israel. Nick Schifrin joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Today, in the Middle East, Mike Pompeo became the first secretary of state to visit the Golan Heights and a settlement in the West Bank. He also announced major shifts in U.S. policy.

    To discuss all this, I'm joined by our Nick Schifrin.

    Hi, Nick.

    So, first of all, tell us, what did Secretary Pompeo say, and what did he do today?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Yes, Judy, the first unprecedented step that Pompeo took was about travel.

    As you just said, he visited a settlement in the occupied West Bank with a winery that last year named a vintage after him. Israel calls the settlement legal. Palestinians, who own the land, call it stolen

    And then he took an Israeli military helicopter up to the Golan Heights. That's his wife right next to him. He got a tour from the Israeli military along the Syrian border. Israel annexed the Golan after capturing it the 1967 war. That was rejected by the international community. But the Trump administration recognized it last year.

    Secretary of State Mike Pompeo: You can't stand here and stare out at what's across the border and deny the central thing that President Trump recognized that previous presidents had refused to do, that this is a part of Israel, and a central part of Israel.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The next steps he took were on policy.

    He said that any food produced on most settlements in the occupied West Bank should be labeled made in Israel. That changes decades of policy that required the labeling of the West Bank.

    And he also embraced the Israeli government's argument that the boycott divestment sanctions movement, or BDS, was anti-Semitic. And he pledged to cut funding for any group that supports the BDS.

    Overall, this was another attempt by the secretary of state to endorse Israel's arguments about land and legality and minimize Palestinian claims to statehood and what the international community considers illegal actions by Israel.

    Judy, I talked to the head of the BDS movement earlier. He said that he was trying to change Israeli policy through economic pressure. And he accused Pompeo of conflating anti-Semitism with legitimate criticism of Israel and advocacy of Palestinian rights, which he said should be protected by the First Amendment.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Nick, we're down to almost the last two months of this administration. So, what's the actual impact of all this?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Yes, most likely, not very much.

    There are only 62 days left before inauguration. It's unclear how much the administration can get done on labeling or the BDS in that time. And many of the administration's moves when it comes to Israel and the Palestinians have been directives or executive orders. Those can be easily reversed by president-elect Biden on January 20.

    But what can't be reversed, Judy, is the photo opportunities that this trip gave Mike Pompeo ,if he were to choose to run for office, for example, president in 2024.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, maybe several meanings behind all this.

    Nick Schifrin, we thank you.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Thank you.

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