Under the stewardship of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the Trump administration took new approaches to American foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East.
The results have been profound, culminating in three separate normalization agreements between the State of Israel and Sunni Muslim-majority nations: the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan.
In laying the groundwork for these agreements over the past several years, the Trump administration instituted new policies to combat global anti-Semitism and strengthen Israeli sovereignty over territories that the international community has long-considered disputed, acknowledging centuries of Jewish history in these areas, as well as current facts on the ground.
In addition, the administration has placed an economic stranglehold on the Iranian regime in the form of crippling sanctions over its malign activities in the region and its illicit pursuit of nuclear weapons.
During this week’s whirlwind seven-country tour that included a three-day visit to Israel, Pompeo continued to build upon his administration’s Middle East policies, even as President-elect Joe Biden prepares to succeed Trump in the White House.
In Israel, the secretary of state participated in a historic trilateral meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani.
In addition, Pompeo made a historic visit to the Golan Heights, which the Trump administration formally recognized in 2019 as part of Israel’s sovereign territory, and became the first US secretary of state to visit an Israeli community in Judea and Samaria.
Furthermore, during Pompeo’s stay in Israel, the State Department announced that the United States would impose additional sanctions on Iran, and take specific measures to combat the global anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement — which he called “a cancer” and “anti-Semitic.” These measures include a new US legal requirement that goods produced in Israeli-controlled “Area C” of the West Bank be designated as “Made in Israel.”
Each of these policies has been met with praise within Israel, though they risk being overturned by the Biden administration.
In an exclusive interview, Pompeo sat with JNS at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel to discuss the rationale and motivations behind these policies, and where he believes they will lead in the future.
JNS: Prime Minister Netanyahu said yesterday that, “The ‘People of the Book’ have not had a better friend.” You have often spoken publicly of your strong faith in G-d. How fulfilling is it for you, not just on a diplomatic level— but personally and spiritually — to have been able to make such meaningful policy initiatives to strengthen the State of Israel, particularly in those territories in which the stories of the Torah, the Bible, came to life?
Pompeo: Personally, it’s been an enormous privilege to get the opportunity to deliver on President Trump’s policies with respect to each of those things. But in the end, it is not about Mike Pompeo. In the end, it is about how America will exert its moral force to be a force for good around the world. And I am very confident that the Trump administration has been, and will continue to be, a force for good not only in this region, but in every place where American influence can be.
JNS: In announcing new sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran, you wrote, “The Iranian regime is increasing its stockpile of enriched uranium. This is indeed troubling, but even more disturbing is the notion that the United States should fall victim to this extortion and abandon our sanctions.” How long should these sanctions stay in place?
Pompeo: They stay in place until Iran demonstrates a commitment to changing its behaviors around the world.
We laid down a policy back in May of 2018 that said, “These are the things that normal nations do,” such as ceasing assassination campaigns around the world or arming militias and sovereign nations.
So, you run Shia militias in Iraq; you run forces into Syria that conduct terror campaigns on civilians; you build up a ballistic-missile program with the intention of one day creating a nuclear capability.
These are unacceptable, and we ought to do everything we can to deny the regime the resources and capacity to continue to build out those programs. And so that’s what the campaign has been designed to do. It’s been very effective, for sure. And I am confident in the president’s objective—that we are prepared to have a conversation about how we resolve this amicably and peacefully.
As a result, we’ve also delivered the amazing Abraham Accords, which are deeply connected to the fact that the world has now isolated Iran in ways that when we came into office wasn’t the case.
We put [the Iranian leadership] in a smaller space, which gives all the capacity for the Iranian people ultimately to get a regime to behave in the way that’s in the best interest of [those] people. That’s our mission. We’re closer to it today than we were three years ago. For sure.
JNS: You tweeted yesterday, “The historic Abraham Accords have put the region on a transformative path toward stability, security and opportunity.” Do you expect that the momentum of the Accords will continue, regardless of whether the White House actively serves as a peace broker in the future?
Pompeo: Of course, the Abraham Accords exist because they are in the best interest of sovereign nations. The leaders of Bahrain and Sudan and the Emirates chose to enter into these agreements with Israel, because it was in the best interest of their people. And every leader has a responsibility to do that.
So I’m very confident in the direction of travel that this administration helped foster, which is: The isolation of Iran; the central recognition that Jerusalem is the rightful capital of the Jewish homeland; that the Golan Heights belongs to Israel; that the conflict between Israel and Palestinians is important and needs to be resolved, but the resolution of that [conflict] can’t be a precondition for increased stability and prosperity in the Middle East.
That was 40 years of policy, which said that if we don’t solve [Palestinian-Israeli conflict], we can’t do anything anywhere else. Well, we’ve proven that wrong. I think these leaders have seen that. And I’m very confident that other nations will come to conclude that the best policy with respect to the Middle East is a unified, peaceful, prosperous Middle East — which includes Israel as a partner in those very endeavors.
JNS: Yesterday you said that the “Department of State stands strongly to the recognition that settlements can be done in a way that is lawful and appropriate and proper.”
Your reversal of the 1978 Hansell Memo, which considered “civilian settlements” in Judea and Samaria as “inconsistent with international law,” has come to be known in Israel as the “Pompeo Doctrine.” Is this, in your view, the Pompeo Doctrine?
Pompeo: Well, no, it is a statement of fact. It is the case of these places I visited yesterday in Judea and Samaria. I saw Arabs living peaceably alongside Jews. I saw people of all different stripes. The idea that every settlement is unlawful as a matter of law doesn’t comport with reality. Israeli courts have recognized that some settlements aren’t, and this is how this should be resolved. It’s actually pretty straightforward, in my judgment.
JNS: In the Trump administration’s “Peace to Prosperity” vision, all Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria would remain part of Israel in any settlement between Israelis and Palestinians. Will this recognition lead to a breakthrough in a stalled peace process?
Pompeo: We’ve made pretty clear the administration’s position with respect to the vision for peace that we’ve laid out. The central requirement is a set of leaders of the Palestinian people who are prepared to engage in an important conversation with Israel to come to a reasonable and amicable solution.
We laid out our vision for peace. It had a two-state solution. It granted enormous capacity for the lives of the Palestinians to be better. We hope that the Palestinians will join in this conversation. We are prepared to do that at any time. We want them to sit down with Israelis and begin to resolve this. It’s something that the world is demanding.
You can see nations all across the world coming to understand that the Palestinians have rejected reasonable offers to negotiate time and time again. And the leadership has simply failed its own people.
JNS: Is there a unifying theme between your policies regarding the Abraham Accords, isolating Iran and laying out a new vision for peace between Israelis and Palestinians?
Pompeo: The common theme is that in the United States, we recognized the reality of what’s best for humanity, for the people. And so whether it’s the Iranian people or the Palestinian people, we want them to live in harmony and peace and be prosperous, not engage in historical feuds that don’t comport with the reality that is 2020.
JNS: Yesterday, you pledged to treat anti-Zionism as anti-Semitism and called BDS “a cancer.” You called on the US government to identify and restrict funding to organizations working “to penalize or limit commercial relations with Israel.” And the US will now require producers in “Area C” to mark their goods as “Made in Israel.”
The New York Times referred to your itinerary yesterday as “scarcely a mere victory lap,” and in a headline called your diplomatic announcements “parting gifts to the Israeli right.” Are these “parting gifts”? Why are these announcements coming now? And who are the beneficiaries?
Pompeo: Oh, these are the right things for the world. Again, our policy in the Middle East has been that we took our founders’ principles, a conservative worldview and a realism that comports with our central understanding and president Trump’s understanding about how American foreign policy should be effectively used.
This decision about how we ought to label products is simply an outcome of this understanding of the region. I’m sure the beneficiaries of this will be legion. I’m sure people will be more prosperous, more free and more capable of living autonomous lives as a result of the decision that we made yesterday. And we’re excited about that.
You know, as for timing, I’m the secretary of state. Every day, I’m the secretary of state. I get up just like I did the first day I was secretary of state and run at problem sets, and try to make President Trump’s foreign policy real and effective. That’s my mission. So long as I’m secretary of state, I’ll continue to do it.
JNS: Should we be expecting further announcements in the days and weeks ahead?
Pompeo: Oh yeah, we’re still working. Yeah. You seem to have a shocked look on your face, as if the secretary of state would stop working at some point in time. No, America’s still engaged and working throughout the world, and we will be.