Pompeo’s visit to Psagot settlement, a farewell gift from Trump to Israel

US Secretary of State Pompeo's visit to the Psagot settlement, built on occupied land in the West Bank, reflects the Donald Trump administration’s decision to consider the Israeli settlements in the West Bank to be legal.

al-monitor 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's to the settlement, on Nov. 18, 2020 in the occupied West Bank. Photo by ABBAS MOMANI/AFP via Getty Images.

Nov 21, 2020

RAMALLAH, West Bank — A mass sit-in was held Nov. 18 in the governorate of Ramallah and al-Bireh in the central West Bank to condemn US Secretary of State Mark Pompeo's Nov. 19 visit to the Psagot settlement in the city of al-Bireh.

The protesters — among them Palestinian leaders, students and institutional representatives — raised Palestinian flags and held banners condemning settlement activity and Pompeo’s visit. They then marched toward the outskirts of Jabal al-Taweel in the city of al-Bireh. Clashes broke out between young people and the Israeli army, resulting in injuries to protesters, who inhaled tear gas.

Mahmoud al-Aloul, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council representing Fatah, said at the sit-in, “Pompeo's visit was no surprise to the Palestinian people given all the US administration's bias to the occupation.” Aloul added, “The administration of outgoing US President Donald Trump is not only biased toward the occupation" but also a partner of it.

Wasel Abu Youssef, a member of the PLO’s Executive Committee who was also present at the sit-in, spoke on behalf of the PLO factions, saying, “Pompeo's visit shows blatant disregard of international law.” He added, “The Trump administration seeks to implement the deal of the century [US Middle East peace plan] in the time remaining before leaving the White House.”

The Palestinian Authority condemned Pompeo's visit to the Psagot settlement. Nabil Abu Rudeineh, the official spokesman for the Palestinian presidency, said in a Nov. 15 press release that Pompeo's visit is a provocative move for the Palestinian people and leadership. He added that it is also a dangerous precedent that confirms the Trump administration’s defiance of results about international legitimacy, most notably UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which condemned the settlements in a 14-0 vote in December 2016. The Obama administration abstained from voting on that resolution.

Aoudeh Muhammad Hamayel, 90, who holds US citizenship, took part in the march against Pompeo's visit. He carried documents showing he owns 18 dunams (4.5 acres) in the Jabal al-Taweel area where Psagot is located. He told Al-Monitor that his 18 dunams were seized 25 years ago, and that the settlers built their housing units on his land. 

Hamayel said he inherited the land from his father and grandfather, and that it was neither sold nor purchased. He said the settlement was established on the lands of Palestinian citizens, most of whom hold US citizenship. A number of people from al-Bireh have American citizenship.

The Psagot settlement is located on a strategic elevated position overlooking Ramallah and al-Bireh governorate and the city of Jerusalem. During the visit to the settlement, Pompeo stopped at a winery. It has wine named after Pompeo as an act of gratitude for his role in the US administration’s decision to legalize Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and his setting aside the legal opinion issued by the US State Department in 1978 that considered settlements built in the occupied territories to be “inconsistent with international law.”

Pompeo’s visit to Psagot was the first for a US secretary of state. It carries important messages to the Palestinians, namely that the United States has changed the way it deals with the settlements built on the land occupied in 1967, after previous US administrations had considered the settlements to be in violation of international law.

Walid Assaf, chairman of the Wall and Settlement Resistance Commission, told Al-Monitor, “Pompeo's visit to an occupied land comes at an idle time for the Trump administration, which is trying to reshuffle the cards before the new US administration arrives, in an attempt to legitimize the settlement activity.”

Assaf, who took part in the protest against Pompeo’s visit, added that the Trump administration wants to continue violating the rights of the Palestinians until the last minute, especially after its failure to impose the Middle East peace plan on the Palestinian people and leadership who oppose it. He said it is an attempt to leave behind a legacy of legitimizing the settlements.

Assaf said Pompeo's visit is a violation of the rights of US citizens of Palestinian origin, in favor of settlers, and in violation of international law. Assaf said, “The Palestinians who own the land on which the Psagot settlement is built are US citizens. Yet the Trump administration did not respect them and did not respect their nationality, which implies a violation of their rights, international law and Security Council Resolution 2334.”

Assaf said the landowners are considering resorting to Canadian courts to file a case against Pompeo on the charge of seeking to legalize settlements on an occupied land, especially since Canada is one of the most prominent markets for wine made in Psagot. He said the decision to turn to Canadian courts could open the way for future cases to be filed in US courts. 

Israeli rights organizations also criticized Pompeo's visit. Peace Now denounced Pompeo's visit to the winery, saying it was built on land stolen from the Palestinians. It said in a Nov. 18 statement, “Psagot Winery began with the takeover of 80 dunams of Palestinian private land near Ramallah. A significant portion of the grapes from which the wine is made come from plundered soil.”

It added, “A few years ago the wealthy American Falic brothers bought the winery. They also contribute generously to Trump, so the visit also doubles as a tribute to friends.”

“Psagot Winery has become a symbol of the settlers’ failure to gain worldwide recognition — about a year ago, a lawsuit filed in France by the winery demanding that it be recognized as a product from Israel was rejected” by the European judiciary, Peace Now wrote.

Pompeo's visit to Psagot seems to be a farewell visit or the last gift from the Trump administration to Israel. It is tantamount to a practical implementation of the administration's decision to consider the settlements established on occupied land as legal and legitimate, culminating four years during which the administration did not stand in the way of any Israeli projects and plans.

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