A request by US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman asking the State Department to stop referring to Judea and Samaria as ‘Occupied Territory’ led to a surprising affirmation that US policy still holds the regions to be illegally occupied by Israel.
Last week, it was reported that Friedman made the request to the State Department. According to the report by Kan, Israel’s Broadcasting Corporation, the State Department initially refused but later agreed to discuss the matter after receiving pressure “from above”—an apparent reference to the White House.
A reporter asked State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert about this in Tuesday’s press briefing.
“The ambassador in Tel Aviv, who is reported to have wanted the administration to stop calling the West Bank occupied. Without getting into internal government deliberations, does the administration still believe that the West Bank is occupied?”
Nauert responded, “I can only say that our position has not changed.”
When pressed for a clarification that the current policy is indeed that the West Bank is occupied by Israel, Nauert repeated her response, saying, “Our position has not changed, and I won’t budge from that.”
The frustrated reporter answered, “At some point it would be nice to find out exactly what that position is.”
There has, in fact, been a perceived shift in US policy concerning Jerusalem, which some claim is partially occupied territory. On December 6, US President Donald Trump made a historic speech in which he recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and expressed a desire to move the US embassy to the city.
Though the president did not refer to specific boundaries, leaving open the possibility of a Palestinian capital in the eastern half of the city and an Israeli capital in the western half, his speech was seen as a major policy shift. It was condemned in the United Nations.
At the State Department briefing, the reporter raised the issue of Jerusalem, asking if there had been a policy change concerning the city.
“Do you believe that Jerusalem ought to be a final status issue, as it’s always been?” he asked.
This was a reference to US policy which has historically considered it desirable to establish an international regime for the city with its final status resolved through negotiations.
“We have always talked about final status negotiations and that being a part of the final status negotiation,” Nauert responded.
Friedman has made remarks in the past that seem to contradict US State Department policy concerning Judea and Samaria. In an interview with the Israeli news outlet Walla in late September, Friedman said he believes that the settlements are “part of Israel”. At the Time Nauert also responded to inquiries about the ambassador’s remarks, stating that they did not represent a change in US policy.