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 today refers to the West Bank, Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights as territories “occupied” by Israel.
However, the Biden administration does 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, 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 2017, 2018 and 2019 annual reports. The 2016 report was published in the early months of Republican 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 quickly 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.”