U.S. Rebukes Ambassador to Israel: 'No Policy Shift' Regarding Occupied Territories

Ambassador Friedman cast doubt on U.S. policy when he referred to Israel's 'alleged occupation' of the West Bank. State Department spokeswoman said there had been no such change

David Friedman, U.S. Ambassador to Israel  listens during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017.
File photo: David Friedman, U.S. Ambassador to Israel listens during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017. Pete Marovich/Bloomberg

The United States has not changed its policy of defining the territories conquered by Israel in 1967 as occupied, despite a recent comment by the Trump administration's ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, which might have suggested otherwise. The spokeswoman for the State Department clarified that point during her daily press briefing on Thursday, stating that Friedman's comments do not represent a new policy.

Friedman said in an interview to the Jerusalem Post last week that the Israeli left-wing is opposing the "alleged occupation" of the West Bank. The United States, however, like the vast majority of the world, has considered the West Bank to be occupied territory ever since Israel conquered it during the Six-Day War. By referring to an "alleged occupation," Friedman cast doubt on this traditional American policy.

Heather Nauert, the State Department's spokeswoman, was asked about Friedman’s choice of words on Thursday and replied: "Our position on that hasn’t changed. The comment does not represent a shift in U.S. policy." When asked why the sitting American ambassador in Israel therefore used those words, she repeated the same answer, signaling that if Friedman intended to question the status of the West Bank, such an intention does not represent official American policy.

Nauer was also asked during the briefing about the Palestinian Authority's security forces’ arrest of Issa Amro, a Palestinian political activist. She replied, "In general, it’s important that governments protect the freedom of expression, the freedom of speech, and be able to create an atmosphere where all voices can be heard." She added that the State Department was aware of his arrest, but did not offer any specific comment on it.