The U.S. State Department changed its standard description of East Jerusalem Palestinians from “Palestinian residents” of the city to “Arab residents” or “non-Israeli citizens” in an annual global human rights report released on Wednesday.
The overwhelming majority of East Jerusalem’s more than 340,000 Palestinians identify as such. The Palestinians have long sought the city’s east, which Israel captured in a 1967 war and later annexed in a move not recognized internationally, as capital of a future state.
Palestinians in Jerusalem hold Israeli residency permits but few have citizenship in Israel, which considers the entire holy city as its eternal, undivided capital. Jerusalem is also home to more than 500,000 Israelis.
The change in U.S. terminology comes amid increased wrangling over the contested city following the release of President Donald Trump’s Middle East plan, which says Jerusalem should “remain the sovereign capital of the State of Israel” under any Israeli-Palestinian peace accord.
State Department reports on human rights practices from 2018 and 2019 referred to East Jerusalem Palestinians as “Palestinian residents of Jerusalem” in sections on civil judicial procedures, discrimination and freedom of movement.
Those same sections in the 2020 report referred to Palestinians as “Arab residents” or “non-Israeli citizens”.
Palestinian leaders criticized the change.
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“Palestinian Jerusalemites are Palestinians, and they’ve been living there for centuries,” said Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Palestine Liberation Organisation official who herself holds a Jerusalem residency permit.
“Just to decide this, to eradicate their identity and history and culture and rename them at will, is not only preposterous, its unconscionable,” Ashrawi said.
Israel embraced Trump’s Middle East plan, released in January, while Palestinians rejected it out of hand, in part because it designated the urban sprawl to the north and east of Jerusalem but cut off from it by an Israeli military barrier as a future Palestinian capital.
The Palestinians have boycotted Trump’s peace efforts since he recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017 and later moved the U.S. Embassy there, accusing Washington of pro-Israel bias.