WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Joe Biden’s State Department has revived the use of the term “occupied,” but with caveats noting Trump administration changes in policy.
In 2018, the State Department stripped “occupation” and “occupied” from the sections of its annual human rights report dealing with Israel and Palestinian areas at the behest of David Friedman, then-President Donald Trump’s ambassador, who has ties to the settlement movement. Under Republican and Democratic presidents, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights had been called the “occupied territories.”
In the first human rights report under Biden, the term reappears, but with an explanatory note: “The United States recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in 2017 and Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights in 2019. 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.”
The Times of Israel first reported the change.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken has affirmed Biden’s pledge that the United States will uphold the Trump recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, although the Biden administration is also taking steps that implicitly recognize a Palestinian claim to the eastern part of the city, including plans to reopen a Palestinian-specific U.S. consulate.
Blinken has stopped short of recognizing Israel’s claim to the Golan Heights, as Trump had done, but has also said that the question is moot as long as the Assad regime is in place in Syria — a status unlikely to change anytime soon.