U.S. State Dept. 'Hasn't Changed' Position Regarding Status of West Bank as Occupied Territory

U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman requested they denounce the term last week, but the State Department hasn't altered any definitions just yet

Ambassador Friedman's Presentation of Credentials on May 16, 2017
Matti Shatran

The U.S. State Department on Tuesday reiterated that it has "not changed" its position regarding the status of the West Bank as occupied territory, following a report published last week saying that U.S. Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, has pressured the department to stop using that term.

The Department's spokeswoman, Heather Nauert, said during a press briefing in Washington that "our position hasn't changed." She refused to directly say, however, what is the position that hasn't changed, sticking instead to a vague formula, which seemed aimed at not attracting political criticism from the right.

This is not the first time Nauert has had to make such a statement following contradictory remarks by Friedman. Over the summer, the ambassador told an Israeli news website that Israel was in fact only occupying 2% of the West Bank. Back then, Nauert also stated that the United States' position on the entire West Bank being occupied - a fact recognized by every American administration since 1967 - has not changed.

In early September, Friedman said in an interview to the Jerusalem Post that the Israeli left-wing is opposing the "alleged occupation" of the West Bank, causing some to think he state department had changed their definition of the issue. In late September, he caused similar controversy when he told the Israeli news site Walla that said that Israel is "only occupying 2 percent of the West Bank," and that it was "always the expectation" that Israel would expand into the area it conquered after the Six Day War in 1967. 

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.

Then as now, Nauart distanced the State Department from the comments, saying "Our position on that hasnt 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.