U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a press conference at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, DC on September 21, 2020. (Patrick Semansky / Pool via Reuters)
Pompeo was also the first Secretary of State to visit an Israeli settlement in the West Bank.
GOLAN HEIGHTS – In support of Israeli sovereignty, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday visited Mount Bental in the Golan Heights, the area Israel has controlled since it conquered Syria during the Six Day War in 1967, the first U.S. Secretary of State to rule the area visited.
“This is a part of Israel, a central part of Israel,” he said during joint statements with Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi.
The Trump administration recognized Israeli sovereignty over the territory in 2019, despite much of the world condemning Israel’s claim as illegal occupation. Israel and the United States claim that Israeli sovereignty over Golan is justified because it has been embroiled in a defensive war and is an integral part of Israel’s national security.
Pompeo spent the day touring the country, where he presented several post-election initiatives to strengthen ties between the US and Israel. When he stopped at the Psagot settlement, he was the first state secretary to visit an Israeli settlement in the West Bank.
“We will honor your right to defend your own people,” he told Ashkenazi during his remarks at Mount Bental.
Ashkenazi and Pompeo spoke against the backdrop of the Syrian border, just over a mile from the mountaintop, a Syrian-Israeli military post that now functions as a tourism hub.
The area remains a target for military action by Syrian and Iranian forces. Shortly before Pompeo’s arrival in Israel on Wednesday, the Israeli air force hit targets in Syria in retaliation for landmines placed on the Israeli side of the border.
At Mount Bental, the Secretary of State attended military briefings led by Avigdor Kahalani, a respected former brigadier general in the Israel Defense Forces who was tank commander in the 1967 war.
Pompeo mentioned he was looking forward to visiting Golan Heights earlier in the day during a joint appearance with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The planned visits to Golan and Psagot were first reported by Axios.
After his previous appearance on Psagot, the State Department issued new guidelines for labeling products from Israel and the Palestinian Territories to “align with our realistic foreign policy approach.” Under the new rules, all products from the part of the West Bank that contains Psagot will be labeled as made in Israel. In 2019, the Foreign Ministry issued a legal opinion stating that Israel’s settlements did not violate international law.
The move came after the ruling of the European Court of Justice last November, according to which products made in the settlements are labeled as such. After the State Department issued its legal opinion, the Psagot winery named one of its blends after the US Secretary of State.
When the senior official arrived at the vineyard for lunch and a tour, the owner greeted him with bottles of Pompeo wine, according to a tweet from Barak Ravid of Walla News.