The US State Department has removed the “Palestinian Territories” from its website’s list of countries and areas in the Middle East, sparking an uproar among Palestinian officials.
The current version of the website only mentions Palestinians on its page for Israel, in the context of the Trump administration’s peace efforts.
Archived versions of the State Department’s website during the tenure of former US president Barack Obama as well as from earlier administrations included the “Palestinian Territories” in its “Near Eastern Affairs: Countries and Other Areas” page and offered extensive information on the West Bank and Gaza.
It was not immediately clear when the listing was removed. The State Department denied any change in policy.
Queried about the change during a press appearance in France on Monday, US President Donald Trump referred reporters to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo: “You can ask Mike Pompeo,” he said when a reporter asked whether removing the PA from the website was “conducive” to his peace efforts.
The removal was flagged on Friday by Middle East analyst Aaron Magid, who tweeted out a screenshot of the updated page, prompting extensive coverage in Palestinian media. (Magid is the brother of Times of Israel correspondent Jacob Magid.)
Just noticed this: @StateDept has removed Palestinians completely from the Middle East. It used to be Palestinian territories or the Palestinian Authority. Now, Palestinians don't exist https://t.co/zCGNfuaizy pic.twitter.com/n59IMwTwHZ
— Aaron Magid (@AaronMagid) August 23, 2019
“That’s crazy. Palestinians are not going anywhere. US interests require engaging with them. Israel itself still cooperates with the Palestinian Authority in various ways,” tweeted Dan Shapiro, who served as US ambassador to Israel under Obama.
Nabil Abu Rudeineh, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s spokesman, lashed out at the move, saying in a statement Sunday that it was “consistent with the extreme Israeli right’s ideas and an unprecedented decline in American foreign policy,” according to the official PA news site Wafa.
He said the removal of the section on the Palestinians “comes in the context of a series of hopeless [American] attempts to erase the Palestinian issue and the people” and added that the US administration “should know that there will be no peace, security and stability in the region without the establishment of a Palestinian state along June 4, 1967, borders with East Jerusalem as its capital.”
Mohammed Subeih, a Palestine Liberation Organization official, told the Voice of Palestine, the official PA radio station, on Monday that the Jordan-based leadership of the Palestinian National Council, a top PLO body, would discuss the matter at its weekly meeting later in the day.
In an emailed response to a query from The Times of Israel on the matter, the State Department said “the website is being updated. There has been no change to our policy.”
However, the Palestinian Territories were the only listing removed from the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs page.
In March, the State Department issued its annual report on human rights around the world and for the first time referred to the Golan Heights as “Israeli-controlled,” also dropping the “occupied” label for the West Bank.
Under Obama, the State Dept’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs included the Palestinian Terrorities on the list of countries and other areas in its portfolio. Under Trump, they’re off the list. (1: https://t.co/j8XCp840cv; 2: https://t.co/QMkGDQZGuk) via @AaronMagid pic.twitter.com/zQ5GriiaMt
— southpaw (@nycsouthpaw) August 24, 2019
Despite the change in language vis-a-vis the Golan Heights, an administration official at the time denied that it constituted American recognition of Israeli sovereignty over that area. Shortly afterward, Trump made that recognition official.