Trump’s State Department no longer calls West Bank ‘occupied’ in annual report

In first, document on human rights abuses refers simply to ‘Israel, Golan Heights, West Bank and Gaza,’ with no comment on the status of the territories

A view of construction in the West Bank settlement of Efrat on January 26, 2017. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)
A view of construction in the West Bank settlement of Efrat on January 26, 2017. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

WASHINGTON — The US State Department released its annual report on human rights violations around the world on Friday, and there was at least one discernible difference from past reports: It no longer refers to the West Bank as “occupied.”

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.”

Last December, it was reported that US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman asked the State Department to stop calling the West Bank occupied, which would mark a noted departure in US policy.

No indication of any change in that regard had materialized — until now.

In the past, Friedman had made remarks that were rebuffed by Washington as not reflecting official policy. Last September he told Israel’s Walla news site he thought “the settlements are part of Israel.”

State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert, however, later told reporters his comments indicated no shift in the US position. Before his confirmation to the diplomatic role, Friedman was a staunch settlements supporter and columnist for right-wing Israeli publications.

American Ambassador to Israel David Friedman attends the lobby for Israel-US relations at the Knesset on July 25, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The report released Friday also noted that the final status of Jerusalem was still a matter of talks between both sides, despite US President Donald Trump’s formally recognizing the holy city as Israel’s capital and making plans to relocate the US embassy there

“On December 6, 2017, the United States recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” the report said. “It is the position of the United States that the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations between the parties.”

Most of the rest of the report is similar to prior years, cataloging human rights abuses by by the Israeli Defense Forces, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.

The report said “the most significant human rights issues included terrorist attacks targeting civilians and politically and religiously motivated killings by nonstate groups and individuals; administrative detention of Palestinians, often extraterritorially in Israel; and legal requirements and official rhetoric that adversely affected the operating environment for human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on April 15, 2018. (AFP Photo/Gali Tibbon)

It added that the Israeli government “took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses within Israel regardless of rank or seniority.”

The report also included a lengthy section on Hamas activities in Gaza, which it said entailed “rocket and mortar attacks against civilian targets in Israel, and they did so at or near civilian locations in Gaza.” Within the coastal enclave, Hamas carries out violent killings, torture practices and arbitrary arrests of minors and LGBTQ individuals. There is also widespread forced child labor, the report said.

Another section, however, also detailed allegations against Israel, including exacting arbitrary arrests, demolitions of Palestinian homes and confiscation of Palestinian property, torturous interrogation techniques, and imposing limitations on Palestinians’ rights to peacefully assemble and protest and their freedom of movement.

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