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Aides to Pompeo told reporters he is to conduct the speech in his “personal” capacity without the use of State Department resources. But, as Politico’s Nahal Toosi reported, Pompeo may be violating a policy he himself approved earlier this year regarding limitations on the political activities of U.S. diplomats and State Department staffers.
“Pompeo speaking from Jerusalem breaks multiple traditions and norms,” Wendy Sherman, who served as undersecretary of state for political affairs in the Obama administration, told McClatchy. “Secretaries of state, as far as I can find, have never appeared at a political convention. They, like the secretary of defense, have been above politics because they stand for America in the world.”
Pompeo’s visit to Israel is part of a multicountry tour during which he appears set to build on the newly announced normalization of ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. But his short speech to the convention from the historic King David Hotel will reinforce the Trump administration’s unequivocal embrace of Israel as a partisan prop. Pompeo is likely to tout the Israeli-Emirati breakthrough as evidence of Trump’s new approach to the region, though the real force of his appeal may be directed to right-wing Christian Evangelical voters, like himself, at home.
@SecPompeo appears to tape his RNC address from the roof top of the King David hotel in Jerusalem. A State Department spox said Sunday that “Secretary Pompeo will address the convention in his personal capacity” and “(n)o State Department resources will be used.” pic.twitter.com/b1zMmd3FdV— CNN NationalSecurity (@NatSecCNN) August 24, 2020
During a stump speech last week, Trump said his decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was “for the evangelicals.” Both Pompeo and Vice President Pence count among a leading rank of Christian Zionist politicians in the United States, who link matters of geopolitics — whether confronting a regional nemesis in the theocratic Iranian regime or helping Israel extend greater control over the Holy Land — to biblical prophecy and revelation.
“For decades, American support for Israel as a matter of foreign policy was mostly steered by geopolitical and economic considerations,” wrote Israeli-American journalist Mairav Zonszein earlier this year. “But under Trump, it appears far more driven by Christian, Philo-Semitic views that the distinct role of Jews in the biblical land of Israel is paramount. The administration made this clear when it recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital early on in Trump’s term, then recognized Israeli annexation of the Syrian Golan Heights.”
Pompeo has spoken of waging his “never-ending” political battles until the “rapture.” He seemed to nod in approval at a public event at the idea that Trump was a latter-day Queen Esther — another biblical figure — coming to the aid of the people of Israel. He remains allied to an influential evangelical organization, Christians United for Israel, whose founder John Hagee believes, among other things, that the United States has a divinely ordained role in Israeli politics.
All this sets the stage for Pompeo’s speech. “This is apocalyptic foreign policy in a nutshell: Israel not as a real country but as fantasyland, backdrop for Christian myth,” tweeted Israeli commentator Gershom Gorenberg. “We who live here are not people; we are hobbits or orcs, extras in crowd scenes of their story.”
Good to be in Israel again today with @IsraeliPM @Netanyahu. We discussed ways to address Iranian malign influence in the region, shared challenges the U.S. and Israel face, and the benefit of the Abraham Accords. As always, the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security is unwavering. pic.twitter.com/fnTRKIrH3u— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) August 24, 2020
Pompeo plans to address the Republican National Convention from Israel as the country navigates the brink of political crisis. Tens of thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets in protest of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is under criminal indictment and may subject the country to a fourth election since 2019. He has, to a degree, yoked his political fortunes to the Trump administration, an embrace that has muddied the waters in the United States, where Israel is accustomed to unquestioning bipartisan support.
Critics of the Trump administration’s Middle East agenda argue that the U.S.-brokered accord between the Israelis and Emiratis is a shallow win. The countries have had clandestine ties for quite some time and were never in a state of war. Thornier differences remain: The UAE reportedly canceled a trilateral meeting with the United States and Israel to celebrate the deal after Netanyahu objected to Emirati purchases of F-35 fighter jets.
Netanyahu’s desire to extend Israeli sovereignty over Palestinian territory where Jewish settlements sit in the West Bank — which the UAE claimed it is preventing by establishing formal ties — may still be revived down the road. In any case, stopping formal annexation does not change the reality of de facto annexation, which has unfolded through decades of settlement expansions and land grabs.
“Israel continues to plan to annex the West Bank and to violate Palestinian rights, the UAE is involved in military adventurism across the region and is even at war with its own citizens, and Trump is primarily concerned with transactional business arrangements while attacking peaceful protesters at home,” wrote Tamara Kharroub of the Arab Center Washington DC, a think tank. “The point of the deal is a PR boost for the three leaders and their political survival.”
“All they’ve done now is take their ties public with the promise of developing them further, albeit with — at Emirati insistence — some conditions,” wrote Steven A. Cook, a Middle East scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations. “It was a natural step for both countries, one that delivered a cosmetic win,” for the Palestinian territories, “but also predictably served to further sideline the Palestinian cause.”