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Pompeo decides to become the first top US diplomat to visit the disputed West Bank settlement

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JERUSALEM (AP) U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeos hosted a tour of a West Coast winery this week marks the first time a senior U.S. diplomat visits an Israeli settlement, a separation gift from an administration that has taken unprecedented steps to support Israel’s claims to war – won territory.

The Psagot Canteen, partly established on land that Palestinians say was stolen by locals, is part of a vast network of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank that most of the international community considers a violation of international law and a hindrance. key to peace

The award-winning canteen, which offers tours and event venues, is a focus of Israel’s efforts to promote tourism in the occupied territory and a powerful symbol of its fight against campaigns to boycott or label products from settlements.

Pompeo’s expected visit, reported by Israeli media but not officially confirmed, would mark a radical departure from previous administrations, both Democratic and Republican, which often rebuked Israel for building settlements with little effect.

President Donald Trump has already broken with his predecessors by recognizing disputed Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, moving the U.S. Embassy there and dismissing the decades-old U.S. position that the settlements are not in line with international law. The administration has also acknowledged the annexation of Israel of the Golan Heights, captured by Syria in the 1967 war, where Pompeo may also pay a visit.

The Trumps Mideast plan, which overwhelmingly favored Israel and was immediately rejected by the Palestinians, would have allowed Israel to annex nearly a third of the West Bank, including all of its settlements.

The visit to the winery which released a mixed red wine appointed secretary last year would be another gift to Israel in the final weeks of the Trumps presidency, even though neither Trump nor Pompeo have accepted it. the victory of President-elect Joe Bidens.

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Yaakov Berg, CEO of the Psagot factory in the Israeli settlement of Psagot, adjacent to the Palestinian city of Ramallah on the West Bank, has named a red mix after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

emmanuel dunand / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images

The visit could also damage Pompeo’s credentials with evangelical Christians and other Israel supporters if he pursues a post-Trump political career.

The Florida Falic family, owners of the ubiquitous chain of Duty Free Americas stores, is a major investor in the winery. An Associated Press investigation last year found that the family has donated at least $ 5.6 million to groups of residents in the West Bank and East Jerusalem over the past decade. Since 2000, they have donated at least $ 1.7 million to pro-Israel politicians in the US, both Democrats and Republicans, including Trump.

One of the owners, Simon Falic, was unable to confirm Pompeo’s visit, but told the AP that it would be a great honor to welcome him and thank him for his unwavering support for Israel.

Israel occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem in the 1967 war, territories the Palestinians want for their future state. Since then, it has built about 130 settlements and dozens of smaller post offices, ranging from mobile home groups on remote hilltops to fully developed cities.

Over 460,000 Israeli settlers reside in the occupied West Bank and more than 220,000 live in annexed East Jerusalem.

The Palestinians say the settlements make it almost impossible to create a viable state, which was one of the main goals of the settlers who created them.

The settlers, most of whom oppose a Palestinian state and see Jerusalem and the West Bank as the biblical and historical heart of Israel, say they are hardened targets for a long-term approach to conflict resolution that would never succeed.

More important than where [Pompeo] will visit is the message, said Oded Revivi, mayor of the Euphrates settlement. The message he is bringing with him is not to fall into the trap [President] Jimmy Carter has decided to treat us as second-class citizens, to see us as an obstacle to peace.

Palestinians say many of the settlements, including Psagot and the winery, were built on land stolen by private Palestinian owners. Residents of the town near Al-Bireh, many of whom are U.S. citizens, say the settlement destroyed their land after Israel built a security fence around Psagot during the Palestinian intifada or uprising in the early 2000s.

Cain and Karema Quraan, two sisters from Al-Bireh, say they have documents showing that they have a plot of land on which some of the vineyards and a summer house were located.

Imagine that your land, your property, from which you lived and your ancestors lived, is thus taken by foreigners, by force, and you can not touch it, Cain said.

Muneef Traish, an Al-Bireh city council member who holds U.S. citizenship, has led a legal campaign for years on behalf of the community seeking the return of confiscated land. He said the settlers seized a total of 1,000 dunams (250 acres), 400 of which are being used by the canteen.

Falic said he was unaware of any claims to the lands on which the winery was built and that it was recently relocated to an industrial zone near the West Bank, on land purchased directly from the Israeli government.

There should be NO controversy over products made by Jews, in Judea, he wrote to the AP, referring to the South South Coast by its biblical name. The location of the workshops and the success should not create controversy, but rather Jewish and Israeli pride.

Last November, the European Court of Justice ruled that European countries should label products originating from settlements. The decision came after the Psagot winery, which produces 600,000 bottles a year and exports 70% of them, challenged an earlier decision.

Israel rejected the decision to make labels mandatory, saying it was unfair, discriminatory and would encourage the Palestinian-led boycott movement against Israel.

One week after the ruling, Pompeo announced that the US does not consider Israeli settlements in the West Bank a violation of international law, overturning US policy for four decades.

To express her gratitude, Psagot released a new wine called Pompeo, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot.

The message of the US administration is extremely important and strengthens our ongoing fight against the boycott and hypocrisy campaign, said at the time Yaakov Berg, CEO of the canteen. We will continue this just and moral struggle.

A very different war is taking place in Al-Bireh, where the city councilor Traish and other residents plan to protest Pompeo’s visit to the settlement he violates.

We want to tell Pompeo that instead of asking Israel to return the land to American citizens, you are here to celebrate the invasion, he said.

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