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Pompeo Attempts To Cement Trump's Legacy In Israel Ahead Of A Biden Presidency


While workers at the Capitol are dressing up the West Front for Joe Biden's inauguration, members of the current administration are rushing to cement Donald Trump's policies in place. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in the Middle East this past week. He unveiled controversial new policies favoring Israel's right wing, policies that could be hard for an incoming Biden administration to undo. NPR's Daniel Estrin reports from Jerusalem.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Pompeo became the first secretary of state to visit an Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank. He had lunch at a winery that named one of its wines Pompeo. The U.S. used to take a dim view of settlements, seeing their growth as an obstacle to peace because they take up land Palestinians claim for an independent state. But Pompeo says Israel has a right to settle the land, featured in the Bible.


MIKE POMPEO: For a long time, the State Department took the wrong view of settlements and took a view that didn't recognize the history of this special place.

ESTRIN: Pompeo announced a new policy favoring the winery he visited - products made in West Bank settlements must be labeled made in Israel when shipped to the U.S. Hagit Ofran with Peace Now, an Israeli group against settlements, says this could make it hard for consumers who don't want to support settlements.

HAGIT OFRAN: If people want to boycott or not to participate in the occupation, they can do it by not buying products from settlement. But if it's going to be labeled as Israel and they cannot know if it's from occupied territories, then the boycotting will be of all of Israel.

ESTRIN: Pompeo announced another new policy last week.


POMPEO: Today, I want to make one announcement with respect to a decision by the State Department that we will regard the global anti-Israel BDS campaign as anti-Semitic.

ESTRIN: BDS is Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, a movement that calls to boycott Israel because of its policies toward Palestinians. Some Israel supporters see it as a threat because some boycotters oppose Israel itself as a Jewish state. But boycott activists say it's a nonviolent form of protest. So why unveil these new policies right before Biden takes over? Oded Revivi, an Israeli settler leader close to the Trump administration, says Pompeo is playing chess with Biden - one step before checkmate.

ODED REVIVI: It's putting Biden in some sort of check. If he really reverses decisions that were done by the current administration, he might have to confront criticism as to why he's doing it.

ESTRIN: Other administrations have taken steps on Israeli-Palestinian policy right before leaving office, like when President Obama allowed a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Israel's settlements. Scott Lasensky was an adviser for the Obama administration.

SCOTT LASENSKY: President Clinton himself using his presidential transition - trying to move Middle East peace forward. George Shultz at the end of the Reagan presidency - negotiating a very careful, formal diplomatic dialogue - the first ever between American and Palestinian leaders. These are examples of diplomatic opportunism.

ESTRIN: Palestinian leaders see this as their opportunity to make nice with Biden. They've agreed to resume security and economic ties with Israel after a six-month standstill. And they say they might change a practice Democrats criticize - paying stipends to Palestinians convicted of attacking Israelis. Many Palestinians criticize the gestures, like former minister Nabil Amr in this video he posted.


NABIL AMR: (Speaking Arabic).

ESTRIN: He says, why give more ground before Biden enters office while Israel is taking advantage of this time to announce more settlement construction? Israel got another boost yesterday with news that the U.S. Justice Department decided not to renew restrictions on the parole of former U.S. intelligence analyst Jonathan Pollard. He was convicted of espionage for giving classified U.S. documents to Israel and is now expected to move to Israel, where he has popular support. Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.