US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo labelled the pro-Palestinian BDS movement a "cancer" that Washington would designate as anti-Semitic

Jerusalem (AFP) - US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was Thursday taking the first trip by an American top diplomat to the Israel-occupied Golan Heights after an unprecedented stop in a West Bank Jewish settlement that infuriated Palestinians.

The envoy of US President Donald Trump, who has made a staunchly pro-Israel stance a hallmark of his turbulent term in power, also called the pro-Palestinian BDS movement a “cancer” that Washington would designate as anti-Semitic.

Pompeo announced that he would head to the Golan Heights, a strategic territory the Jewish state seized from Syria in the Six-Day War of 1967, following a meeting with close ally Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Last year, Trump’s administration recognised Israeli sovereignty in the Golan – a controversial move Pompeo on Thursday called “historically important and simply a recognition of the reality”.

Pompeo also announced a new pro-Israel policy, stating that Washington would designate as “anti-Semitic” the BDS or Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign which calls for a wide-ranging embargo against Israel over its treatment of the Palestinians.

Israeli tanks take part in a military drill in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights on September 1

“We will immediately take steps to identify organisations that engage in hateful BDS conduct and withdraw US government support for such groups,” Pompeo said.

“We want to stand with all other nations that recognise the BDS movement for the cancer that it is.”

Israel sees BDS as a strategic threat and has long accused it of anti-Semitism, and a law passed in 2017 allows it to ban foreigners with links to the movement.

Activists strongly deny the charge, comparing the embargo to the economic isolation that helped bring down apartheid in South Africa.

Condemning Pompeo’s announcement, Human Rights Watch said “the Trump administration has no business trying to tar groups because they back boycotts,” which it said had been used to advance social justice throughout American history.

- West Bank visit -

The US will label the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, which seeks to isolate Israel over its treatment of the Palestinians, as anti-Semitic, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, calling the movement "a cancer"

Pompeo – who has so far backed Trump in refusing to concede defeat to President-elect Joe Biden – is on what could be his final Europe and Middle East tour in the post.

Netanyahu, who has congratulated Biden, thanked Pompeo for his “unwavering support” of Israel, first as CIA director and later secretary of state.

Pompeo had no scheduled meetings with Palestinian leaders, who have strongly rejected Trump’s stance on the decades-old conflict, including Washington’s recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.

The secretary of state Thursday became the first US top diplomat to visit a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank, where the Psagot winery has named one of its red blends after him.

On the way there, he stopped at Qasr el Yahud, revered as the site of the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan Valley.

An Israeli winemaker holds a bottle of his red blend named after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the Psagot Winery in the occupied West Bank

Pompeo said a year ago that the United States no longer considers Israeli settlements in the West Bank to be contrary to international law.

He took a further step Thursday, announcing that the US would now consider exports from much of the West Bank as Israeli.

He said the new guidelines apply especially to Area C, the large part of the West Bank where Israel retains full civil and military control and where much of the settler population lives.

Area C also includes the strategic Jordan Valley and many Palestinian communities, areas that Israel considers to be disputed.

Pompeo’s announcement seemed to imply that even Palestinian exports from Area C should be tagged as Israeli products – as should the wine he sampled at Psagot.

Regarding products from West Bank areas under Palestinian control, they must now be marked as coming from the West Bank or Gaza which is controlled by the Hamas Islamist group.

That decision effectively means that, at least through Trump’s remaining days in office, the US will not recognise exports as coming from the Palestinian Territories.

- Peace talks? -

The Palestinians condemned Pompeo’s unprecedented visit to a West Bank settlement as well as Washington’s decision to label exports from settlements as Israeli.

Palestinians demonstrate near the Israeli settlement of Psagot, built on the lands of the city of al-Bireh, against the visit by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

“The decision blatantly violates international law,” said Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, dismissing it as yet another biased, pro-Israeli move by Trump’s administration.

On Wednesday, Pompeo and Netanyahu stood by when Bahrain’s foreign minister called for fresh Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Bahrain’s Abdellatif al-Zayani said the historic US-brokered deals the Gulf kingdom and the United Arab Emirates had struck to normalise ties with Israel would help foster a dawn of “peace for the entire Middle East”.

But, he added, consolidating that peace will require solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through “a viable two-state solution”.

Zayani’s assertion defied previous comments from Netanyahu, who has insisted Israel’s deals with Bahrain and UAE proved that economic collaboration was now more important in the Middle East than the Palestinian issue.