Pompeo hints more Trump administration announcements on Israel to come
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to The Jerusalem Post, November 20, 2020
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
US policy towards Israel will continue in the same vein in the coming weeks, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post on Friday.Asked whether the US would find ways to further entrench the principles of US President Donald Trump’s Vision for Peace between Israel and the Palestinians, which calls for Israel’s final borders to include over 30% of Judea and Samaria and most of east Jerusalem, such as recognizing Israeli sovereignty in those parts of its capital, Pompeo would not confirm specific policies that are under consideration.
However, he added: “There’s every reason to expect that the direction of travel for US policy with respect to Israel will continue.”
Pompeo’s remarks came the day after he announced that products imported by Israelis in Judea and Samaria to the US would be labeled “made in Israel,” and that the US would consider the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement to be antisemitic and all funding would be revoked from its affiliates.The announcements came as he visited the Psagot Winery in Sha’ar Binyamin, making him the first US secretary of state to visit a West Bank settlement, and soon after he became the first to visit the Golan Heights.The text of the BDS announcement also applies to entities that boycott “any territory controlled by Israel.” This meets another policy objective of Pompeo, who sought to declare several human rights organizations antisemitic. That plan was leaked to the media last month and was shelved amid an uproar in the State Department.Asked if his new policy applies to organizations like Amnesty International, which have called to boycott settlements, Pompeo responded: “I think the policy is pretty clear. We are going to continue to apply that policy against existing facts on the ground and when it’s applicable, we’ll apply it.”Amid all the announcements, the Trump administration’s policies to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions did not come up as much in the public statements on Pompeo’s three-day trip to Israel.But on Friday, Pompeo reaffirmed that the military option against Iran is still on the table, even as the maximum sanctions campaign continues: “The administration has been clear on that for its entire four years. There is no reason that would change today or tomorrow.”As for whether the Trump administration would give bunker buster bombs to Israel, that would allow it to attack Iranian nuclear sites, as a new bipartisan bill in Congress would allow, Pompeo would not comment, but said they will “continue to do all the things we have done previously.”“Consistent with what we have done to date, we have tried in each case to build out an enormous coalition [against Iran] and we have successfully done that [in a way] that understands the things that create opportunities in the Middle East and reduce risk to Israel and therefore, risk to the US as well,” he said.Asked about the likelihood that a Biden administration would seek to reverse Trump-era policies related to Israel on Iran, the Palestinians and settlements, Pompeo wouldn’t quite admit that his time in office is, in all likelihood, ending in two months, in keeping with his boss US President Donald Trump’s continuing challenge to the apparent election results in favor of Democratic candidate Joe Biden.“We’re still counting votes in the US, so there’s not much game in talking about that, other than to say we’re very convinced that we have made the Middle East safer and the policies we put in place are the right ones,” Pompeo said.Apparently referring to Biden’s declared intention to return to the JCPOA, Pompeo said: “It cannot be the case that rewarding Iranian intransigence, rewarding terror, rewarding Iranians for building their enrichment programs is the right course of action to make Israel safer.“It’s our firm belief that the continuation of the things we’ve been doing leads to a very increased likelihood of a safer, more prosperous Middle East and that our friends in Israel will be safer and more secure as a result of that as well,” he stated.The sanctions campaign on Iran has been “pretty successful,” in Pompeo’s assessment, and “we will continue to do that for as long as the country demands it.”“I remember when we first began the maximum pressure campaign,” he recounted. “We’d withdrawn from the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the 2015 Iran deal], and the world said this will never work, American sanctions alone won’t work. Well, they have significantly reduced Iran’s capacity to foment harm around the world.”Sanctions have not fundamentally changed Iran’s behavior, Pompeo admitted, but they are not able to fund proxies in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon as much as they had before, and as much as they would have “had we continued to pile pallets of cash” to send to Iran, as occurred during the Obama administration.“The path that the president took denied the regime their resources to continue to put Israel at risk and the Middle East at risk,” Pompeo explained.Not only did the maximum pressure campaign deny Iran money, it also sent a message throughout the Middle East that isolated Iran and facilitated the Abraham Accords between Iran and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, he said.Pompeo would not discuss which other Arab countries may establish open diplomatic relations with Israel, but he said he is still working on it.“I believe in all my heart that the Trump administration policies that we have set up created the conditions for those leaders to make exactly that decision [to normalize ties with Israel], and if they do, it will be a glorious thing for the region,” he said. “The people of those countries will be better off, [with] more prosperity and opportunity. They’ll get access to Israeli technology and smarts and creativity and vice-versa. There will be better security relationships and diplomatic relationships.”Pompeo added: “The Middle East deserves a set of understandings that have Israel as part of the solution here in the Middle East. The Abraham Accords is the instrument for achieving that, and it’s been glorious to be part of a team that has helped these nations get to this place.”Another factor Pompeo cited in leading up to the Abraham Accords was Trump’s peace plan disproving “the notion that you can’t do anything until you solve the Israel-Palestinian conflict…It was a precondition to do anything in the Middle East that we can’t begin to build peace, prosperity and stability in the Middle East until we solve that conflict. President Trump has demonstrated that was false for all of these years.”Beyond the signal the Abraham Accords broadcast to the Palestinians, the Trump administration also recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, slashed most aid to the Palestinians – some because of the “Taylor Force Act” denying the Palestinian Authority funding as long as it continues its “pay for slay” program to pay terrorists in prison and their families and some beyond that – and closed the PLO’s office in Washington.The PA almost totally cut ties with the Trump administration and cut off cooperation with Israel for several months this year, but it seems like the economic pressure did the job. The PA has renewed cooperation with Israel, including accepting the taxes and tariffs Jerusalem collects, and is reportedly weighing downsizing the “pay for slay” program. The timing is such that it would allow President-elect Joe Biden to reinstate aid to the PA next year.Pompeo said that Trump’s Vision for Peace “demarcated a brighter future for the Palestinian people,” and the fact that the Palestinians refused to negotiate based on that plan hurts the Palestinian people.“With respect to Palestinian policy, we hope that Palestinian policy will come to reflect the will of Palestinians,” he said. “If it does, I am confident that the Palestinian leadership would come to the table. They’d sit down, have hard-fought negotiations. They’d have disagreements we’ve had for decades, but they can come to a set of common understandings that would deliver a really good outcome and a much better life for the people that live in Judea and Samaria and the Gaza Strip as well. These are places where people are living in very difficult conditions, and it’s most unfortunate and unnecessary. It’s brought to them by failed leadership whether it’s the [Palestinian Islamic Jihad] in Gaza or Hamas in Gaza or the leadership in the West Bank today. It’s most unfortunate.”Pompeo continued to the United Arab Emirates from Israel on Friday and Qatar on Saturday, and he is expected to stop in Saudi Arabia on this trip, as well.
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