West Bank, Gaza and Golan no longer ‘occupied’ according to US state department
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West Bank, Gaza and Golan no longer ‘occupied’ according to US state department

Disputed territories now seen as being 'controlled' by Israel by the American government according to latest human rights report

Israeli soldier stands during clashes with Palestinians following a protest against U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in the West Bank City of Nablus, Friday, Dec. 8, 2017. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)
Israeli soldier stands during clashes with Palestinians following a protest against U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in the West Bank City of Nablus, Friday, Dec. 8, 2017. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

The West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights are no longer “occupied” by Israel but “controlled” by Israel, according to the US State Department’s latest annual report on human rights.

The subtle yet seismic shift in language – which is unlikely to be replicated by US allies – had been expected since Mike Pompeo, a Trump supporter and evangelical Christian, replaced Rex Tillerson as US Secretary of State last spring.

Pompeo, whose role in effect makes him America’s top diplomat, has met Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu almost once a month since taking office, their most recent meetings being held in December, January and March.

His department’s report, published this week, drops the term “occupied territories” from its description of the Golan Heights, and describes the West Bank and Gaza Strip as “territories under Israeli control” rather than “occupied”.

The US State Department said there had been “no change in the US’s attitude towards the Palestinian territories” but Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said removing the term ‘occupied’ was “another revelation of the nature of the American administration, which is hostile to the Palestinian people”.

He added: “Those American descriptions won’t change the reality that the Palestinian territory that has been occupied since 1967.”

Israel captured the Golan Heights, the West Bank and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war. It later annexed the Golan Heights in 1981, as well as East Jerusalem, in moves not recognised internationally.

During a House of Commons debate in 2017, the UK’s Middle East Minister Alistair Burt said “there is no question of supporting any settlements in the Golan Heights… We regard the Golan Heights as occupied territory and we cannot support the Israeli occupation”.

This week, however, senior Republican politicians in the US, including Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz, said they would “start an effort to recognise the Golan as part of the State of Israel now and forever”.

Under the Obama administration, the US considered the territories occupied and routinely criticised Israeli settlement-building, but criticism stopped when Trump took office and appointed bankruptcy lawyer David Friedman as US ambassador to Israel. Friedman has previously raised money for one of the biggest settlements.

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