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US report reintroduces pre-Trump language of Israeli ‘occupation,’ but affirms Jerusalem as Israel’s capital

Biden admin also restores aid to Palestinian Authority

View of the Jewish settlement of Eli in the West Bank on January 17, 2021. (Photo: Sraya Diamant/Flash90)

The first annual U.S. Country Report by the Biden administration on human rights practices worldwide reintroduces pre-Trump State Department language of Israeli “occupation” of Palestinian territory and the need to implement a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

In addition to the language change, The Associated Press reported on Wednesday that the Biden administration has restored financial aid to the Palestinian Authority to the tune of $75 million for economic support. Congress was notified of the decision without a public announcement, to be used in part to regain the “trust and goodwill” of the PA.

The renewed aid and the language in the report can be viewed as a conciliatory nod toward the Palestinian Authority to resume diplomatic ties between Washington and Ramallah. While some pundits will perceive the language as hostile towards Israel, it is, in practice, a return to business as usual, when it comes to Washington’s long-held opposition to Israeli settlements as impediments to implementing the two-state solution. Such language was vanquished during former President Donald Trump’s term. 

The Palestinian Authority’s envoy to the United Kingdom, Husam Zomlot, welcomed the new report with some reservations. 

“Good that we are back on the same page regarding the status of occupied territory. The real question is: What is the Biden administration going to do about it? It’s too late for talk, we need action to hold Israel accountable and to end the occupation,” Zomlot told The Times of Israel. 

Prior to his posting in London, Zomlot headed the Palestinian Mission in Washington until it was closed by the Trump administration in 2018. 

The fresh U.S. Country Report reaffirmed that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Trump recognized Jerusalem as the Jewish state’s capital in 2017. In 2018, the United States moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The Palestinian Authority and its allies condemned the decision and hoped that a future U.S. president would eventually nullify Trump’s decision on Jerusalem.

However, unlike some Democrats, such as Bernie Sanders, who advocated rethinking America’s position on recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, President Joe Biden is affirming his predecessor’s decision on Jerusalem. 

Ironically, neither the Trump administration nor the Biden administration have specified the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in the Jerusalem area, leaving the door open for negotiating future final borders between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. 

The report looked at human rights issues in Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. While applying the label “occupation” to the West Bank is a deviation from the Trump administration era, the new report largely followed along the lines of Trump’s Middle East policies. For instance, the new report also affirmed Israeli sovereignty over the strategically important Golan Heights, which the Trump administration recognized in 2019. 

However, it would be a mistake to think that the transition from the Trump era to the Biden administration is merely about style and specific linguistic differences. During his tenure, President Trump emerged as arguably the most pro-Israel president in American history. Trump did much more than recognize Israel’s capital Jerusalem, moving the American embassy and recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. 

Trump embraced Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s position and left the controversial nuclear deal with Iran. He also closed the Palestinian diplomatic mission in Washington, ended aid to UNWRA and took the United States out of the UN’s Human Right Council over its widely recognized hostile bias towards the Jewish state and Jewish history. 

When it comes to Israel, Biden differs from both former presidents Trump and Barack Obama. While Biden has, so far, refrained from creating daylight between Washington and Jerusalem, as Obama advocated, Biden has also cooled down the relations with the Netanyahu government. Trump and Netanyahu had developed an unusually close personal relationship, but Biden waited nearly a month before making his first call to Netanyahu. 

The Biden administration also decided to bring the United States back to the Human Rights Council, while simultaneously recognizing its problematic stand on Israel. 

Last but not least, the Biden administration appears very eager to resume negotiations with Iran over a nuclear deal. While Biden has signaled that he wants to listen to the concerns of U.S. allies, such as Israel and the Sunni Arab states, Washington has also made it clear that it will not allow any other government to have a veto on Washington’s foreign policy.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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