State Dept. confirms US views Israel’s control over West Bank as ‘occupation’

Washington clarifies position after report on human rights situation restores the expression, excised under Trump, but also uses some of previous administration’s terminology

View of the Jewish settlement of Eli, in the West Bank, on January 17, 2021. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)
View of the Jewish settlement of Eli, in the West Bank, on January 17, 2021. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)

WASHINGTON — US President Joe Biden’s administration said Wednesday that Israel’s control of the West Bank is indeed “occupation,” clarifying its stance after the release of a report that seemed to downplay the term, adopting language used by Donald Trump’s government.

The State Department’s annual report on human rights “does use the term ‘occupation’ in the context of the current status of the West Bank,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.

“This has been the longstanding position of previous administrations of both parties over the course of many decades,” he said.

But under the staunchly pro-Israel Trump, the annual human rights report renamed the section on “Israel and the Occupied Territories” as “Israel, West Bank and Gaza.”

US Vice President Kamala Harris listens as President Joe Biden speaks after signing the PPP Extension Act of 2021, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, March 30, 2021. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

The first of the reports issued under Biden, which was released Tuesday, kept the same formulation but stated that the language was not meant to convey any position.

The top State Department official on human rights, Lisa Peterson, said that the report generally uses geographical names and that “Israel, West Bank and Gaza” was easier and clearer for readers.

Trump’s secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, broke past precedent by visiting a Jewish settlement in the West Bank and said he disagreed with the broad international consensus that such construction is illegal, with Trump signaling that Israel should be free to annex swathes of the West Bank. Trump also recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as well as Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights.

Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005 but maintains control over the Hamas-ruled territory’s airspace and borders, saying it must do so to prevent the terror group, which is avowed to Israel’s destruction, from arming itself and perpetrating attacks.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has indicated the United States will not reverse Trump’s decisions on Jerusalem but will also do more to work toward an independent Palestinian state.

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