Wednesday, March 31, 2021

U.S. State Dept Refers To Israel's West Bank, Gaza And E Jerusalem As 'Occupied' Territories

In return to pre-Trump norm, State Dep’t report refers to ‘occupied’ territories

In a partial return to a pre-Trump-era norm, the US State Department’s annual report on human rights violations around the world published on Tuesday referred to the West Bank, Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights as territories “occupied” by Israel.

However, the Biden administration did not go as far as to title the specific chapter in the 2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices “Israel and the Occupied Territories,” as had been the custom for decades until the Trump administration, led by former US ambassador to Israel David Friedman, who pushed to have it altered to say “Israel” followed by a list of the disputed territories.

In the 2017 report, the chapter was titled “Israel, Golan Heights, the West Bank and Gaza. After then-US president Donald Trump recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, the 2018 and 2019 reports dropped that territory from the section title.

The 2020 report — the first during the Biden administration — uses the same chapter label from the previous two years, “Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.”

In addition to changing the chapter title, the Trump-led State Department dropped almost every mention of occupation from the bodies of the 2017, 2018 and 2019 annual reports. The 2016 report was published in the early months of the Republican president’s administration, while the more moderate Rex Tillerson was secretary of state and before Friedman began his stint as ambassador.

The 2020 chapter states that it “covers the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem territories that Israel occupied during the June 1967 war.”

However, it also clarifies that “language in this report is not meant to convey a position on any final status issues to be negotiated between the parties to the conflict, including the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, or the borders between Israel and any future Palestinian state.”

Palestinian Ambassador to the UK Husam Zomlot praised the labeling shift, but said that it would not be enough on its own.

“Good that we are back on the same page regarding the status of occupied territory. The real question is: What is the Biden administration going to do about it? It’s too late for talk, we need action to hold Israel accountable and to end the occupation,” Zomlot, who used to serve as the head of the PLO’s Mission in Washington,” told The Times of Israel.

Israel rejects the claim that it occupies the West Bank, saying the territories it has ruled since 1967 are “disputed.” While it maintains a blockade over the Gaza Strip, which it says is designed to prevent the smuggling of weapons to the enclave-ruling Hamas terror group, Israel notes that it pulled its military and citizens out of that territory.

Israel annexed East Jerusalem after the 1967 Six Day War and the Golan Heights in 1981. The US has never recognized the former move, but Trump did become the first president to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017 before recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights in 2019.

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