Pompeo to be first Secretary of State to visit settlements

Mike Pompeo, expected in Israel next week, will visit a Jewish community north of Jerusalem and travel to the Golan Heights.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will visit the Psagot settlement in Judea, north of Jerusalem, and travel to the Golan Heights when he visits Israel next week, Walla News reported Thursday.

It will be the first-ever visit by an American foreign minister to an Israeli settlement, marking a departure from previous State Department policy.

Pompeo will visit Psagot, which is located only eight kilometers (4.8 miles) north of Jerusalem bordering the Arab city of Ramallah, the seat of government of the Palestinian Authority. He is also expected to visit the Golan Heights, possibly including the site of Trump Heights, the new town being built by Israel to honor U.S. President Trump for recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the strategic plateau.

Pompeo’s visit to Israel will last about three days and will constitute a kind of “heritage visit” making the key policy decisions that the Trump administration has made concerning Israel during his tenure, Walla reported.

Veteran diplomatic affairs reporter Barak Ravid speculated that the Pompeo trip may also be “a visit of intra-American political significance in light of the possibility that he will want to run for the presidency of the United States in the future.”

Earlier this week, the State Department issued a statement saying only that that Pompeo will visit Israel and meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, without specifying the itinerary.

The secretary is also expected to meet other officials, most likely Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Foreign Minister Gabbi Ashkenazi and Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, the report said.

Pompeo is traveling with his wife Susan, and the couple will make a private visit to the Qasr al-Yahud site on the Jordan River, revered by Christians as the traditional site of the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist.

“My assumption is that he chose Psagot because the Psagot winery named a line of red wine it produces after Pompeo about a year ago,” tweeted Ori Nir, spokesman for the left-wing Americans for Peace Now.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh expressed anger at the American official for stepping foot into a settlement.

“We deplore US Sec. of State Mike Pompeo’s intent to visit the illegal settlement of Psagot, built on lands belonging to Palestinian owners in Al-Bireh city,” Shtayyeh tweeted. “This dangerous precedent legalizes settlements and a blow to international legitimacy [and] UN resolutions.”

Pompeo is not the most senior U.S. official to visit a Jewish community in Judea and Samaria. In 2009, former President Jimmy Carter accepted an invitation to visit the Gush Etzion bloc south of Jerusalem.

After meeting settlers and victims of Palestinian terror attacks, Carter told the press he believed the Gush Etzion settlements should remain Israeli.

“This particular settlement area [Gush Etzion] is not one that I envision ever being abandoned or changed over into Palestinian territory,” Carter said, rejecting traditional diplomatic calls for a complete return to the 1948 armistice lines and endorsing Israeli sovereignty over Gush Etzion.

“This is part of the close settlements to the 1967 line that I think will be here forever,” he said, at the same time setting a precedent for the many other settlement areas that are close to “the 1967 line.”