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Nation & World

Pompeo's Latest Israel Trip Could Have Implications For Biden's Presidency

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The clock is running out on the Trump administration, but Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is making pro-Israel policies that could last after he's gone. Pompeo has spent a couple of days in Israel this week and in areas under Israeli occupation, which is a controversial move in and of itself. And he is stepping up U.S. support for Jewish settlements. That could complicate things for the incoming Biden administration. NPR's Daniel Estrin joins us now from Jerusalem. Daniel, good morning.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So, as you know, everywhere a top U.S. official goes in the Middle East is seen as symbolic in some way by some party, which is why these itineraries are so carefully planned. Having said that, with that context, where has Pompeo gone?

ESTRIN: Oh, a lot of symbolic places. First of all, he visited a museum affiliated with the U.S. evangelicals. And he was the most senior U.S. official to visit the Golan Heights, which Israel annexed from Syria. And most countries do not recognize that, but the Trump administration has. He also was the most high - the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit an Israeli settlement in the West Bank. He visited an Israeli-settler winery, which has a wine label called Pompeo. That's in honor of Pompeo saying that Jewish settlements in the West Bank are legitimate. Now, activists point out that the vineyards of that settlement winery are on lands that Palestinian landowners say are theirs. The Israeli who runs the winery lives in a home on a Palestinian landowners property, they say. So - there's even an Israeli demolition order on that home. And the bigger context - most countries say that the very presence of Israeli settlements on occupied land violates international law and hurts the chances of Palestinians being able to establish their own state there. But Pompeo signed the winery guestbook, referring to the West Bank by its biblical name. He sees this as the land of the Bible. And there is speculation he's thinking about a presidential run in 2024, so perhaps these visits can help him with evangelical voters.

MARTIN: It's not just where he's going - right? - it's what he's saying, too. He's announced some new policies.

ESTRIN: That's right. He made two new declarations. He said that a pro-Palestinian movement to boycott Israel is anti-Semitic. Now, most - or many U.S. states have passed laws against these kinds of Israel boycotts. And some boycott supporters say that Israel should not exist as a Jewish state. Boycotters say this anti-Semitic label is wrong and an attempt to delegitimize a nonviolent protest in support of Palestinians. The second declaration that Pompeo made is that when the U.S. imports products - like wines, for instance - from Jewish settlements in the West Bank, they must be labeled as made in Israel. Now, the West Bank is not Israel. Israel has not officially annexed those lands. But here again, Pompeo is siding with Israel's claims to the land.

MARTIN: So how is all this going to box in the incoming Biden administration?

ESTRIN: Well, Pompeo is clearly trying to cement, you know, his view and the administration's view of settlements before leaving office. And this does put Biden in a bind. One Israeli settler leader compared it to chess and Pompeo declaring check, so now it's Biden's move. He has opposed settlement expansion. And if he reverses these policies, it could lead to tensions with Israelis. Of course, Pompeo is not the only one trying to influence the Biden administration now. I should mention that Palestinians themselves are taking steps to create warm relations. And the Palestinians just reestablished security and economic ties with Israel. That could be something that Biden would recognize and welcome.

MARTIN: NPR's Daniel Estrin reporting from Jerusalem, thank you.

ESTRIN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.