United States Ambassador to Israel David Friedman has been seeking to adopt the Israeli name for the West Bank, Judea and Samaria, in his official remarks and statements, but has so far been prevented from doing so by the Trump administration, officials told the Associated Press.
The territory, captured by Israel during the Six Day War in 1967 and regarded as occupied by most of the international community, is referred to in internal Israeli discourse primarily by its biblical name. Its southern part is known as Judea, while the northern part is called Samaria.
It is known internationally as the West Bank due to its location west of the Jordan River, which separates the territory from Jordan.
Friedman and Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s envoy for international negotiations, have also led internal administration opposition to criticism of Israel for its response to recent Palestinian protests organized by Hamas, the terror organization that rules the Gaza Strip, the administration officials said.
IDF forces have killed 40 protesters and rioters who participated in the weekly “March of Return” along the Gaza border, according to the Hamas-run health ministry. While many in the international community have criticized Israel for its response, Jerusalem has said that the protests — whose eventual goal is to erase the border — have been used as cover for violence against IDF soldiers and infiltrations. Most recently, kites carrying firebombs have been flown over the fence from Gaza to torch Israeli crops.
The sources added that Friedman, who lobbied heavily for Trump’s December 6 recognition of Jerusalem and the embassy’s relocation to Jerusalem, has also championed the recent removal of the term “occupied territories,” which had been the standard for more than 20 years, from the title of sections covering Israel, the West Bank and Gaza in the State Department’s annual human rights reports released Friday.
The 2017 report did not entirely eliminate the term from the report, but it significantly reduced its use. Compared with more than 40 references in the 2016 report, the words “occupation” or “occupied” appeared only six times.
Whereas previous iterations of the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices had a section on “Israel and the Occupied Territories,” this year’s document refers instead to “Israel, Golan Heights, West Bank, and Gaza.”
Israel captured the Golan, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza in the Six Day War. It has annexed East Jerusalem and the Golan and, in 2005, withdrew from the Gaza Strip, which is now ruled by Hamas. The Palestinian Authority rules parts of the West Bank, but overall control remains under the Israeli militarily.
Last December, it was reported that Friedman had asked the State Department to stop calling the West Bank “occupied.”
In the past, Friedman had made remarks that were rebuffed by Washington as not reflecting official policy. Last September, for instance, he told Israel’s Walla news site he thought “the settlements are part of Israel.” State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert later told reporters at the time that his comments marked no shift in the US position.
Before his confirmation to the diplomatic role, Friedman was a staunch supporter of settlements and a columnist for right-wing Israeli publications.