OPINION: Trump’s State Department Is No Longer Calling The West Bank ‘Occupied Territory’

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Shoshana Bryen Contributor
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There is a difference between an “honest broker” and a “neutral arbiter.” In advance of the rollout of its Middle East peace plan, the Trump administration has taken a series of steps to ensure its role as the honest broker. The U.S. is not “neutral” between our ally, Israel, and the Palestinians who seek to replace it. But it won’t be easy to change presumptions that are deeply embedded in the process.

The State Department’s annual survey of human rights released this month referred to the Golan Heights simply as “Israeli-controlled territory,” ending its tradition of referring to the West Bank and Gaza Strip as “occupied territory.”

To the community of Washington professionals wedded to the “peace process,” that was an outrage! “Poof,” said one prominent commentator. “With a word change, Israel no longer occupies territory, they now control it. The strategic objective of this administration is to change U.S. policy on refugees; Jerusalem; territory. And they’re doing it.”

But the State Department is correct. The West Bank and Gaza are the remains of the British Mandate — in legal limbo since the Jordanians occupied it in 1948. The Golan Heights were captured after a Syrian attack in 1967 and a second Syrian attack in 1973.

For more than 25 years, the on-again-off-again “peace process” between Israel and the Palestinians has been predicated on unlikely theories about “peace” and erroneous assumptions about both Palestinians, Israelis, and American foreign policy.

First, the process assumed Israel’s security problems are related to the non-state status of Palestinians — hence the name “Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”  And the proposed remedy was “the two-state solution,” an independent state for the Palestinians. More precisely, however, it is the “Arab-Israeli conflict” or the “Arab wars against Israel.”  Arab states went to war in 1948 to erase Israel; they failed.

Second, the process assumed that security for Israel would emerge from “peace.” A situation of peace, however, emerges when countries are secure. The 1967 UN Security Council Resolution 242 got it right, demanding that the Arab states give Israel “secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.”

Third, the process presumed that multiple generations of people held in miserable pens in Arab countries meet the world’s definition of “refugees.” They do not. The Palestinian demand though is that generations of progeny must be able to return to places their grandparents and great-grandparents claim to have come from.

Fourth, and most incredible, the “two-state solution” presumed the Palestinians would simply give up deeply held positions on three crucial points — land/borders, refugees, and Jerusalem — as a gift to what they believe are “interlopers” in “their” country. The Galilee, Jaffa, Haifa are all “Palestine” on PA maps. As is Jerusalem. The idea that they would agree that those can be sovereign Israeli territory has no basis in their negotiating history.

For years, the United States was complicit and encouraged these misleading assumptions, treating the Palestinians as if they were actually a country. The PA office in Washington was considered an embassy; the U.S. office in Jerusalem — a consulate, really, from the time that Jordan was occupying Jerusalem and our Embassy was in Amman — served as an embassy to the Palestinian Authority.  

Most damning, the process had assumed that the United States was a neutral arbiter between two equally worthy parties: Israel and the Palestinians. Neutral between Israel — a democratic, diverse, free-market, egalitarian, self-sufficient partner in the military, scientific, and high-tech fields — and the Palestinian Authority — an arm of the PLO, a terrorist, irredentist, kleptocratic, failed government reliant on international handouts that it uses to pay “salaries” to terrorists who kill Jews.

The U.S. should never have allowed itself to be considered neutral — it is an affront to American ideals and principles.

The Trump administration is not neutral.

The PA Washington office is closed and the Jerusalem consulate has been folded into the new American Embassy in Jerusalem. And Jerusalem is recognized as the capital of the State of Israel.

The administration has declined to “pay for slay,” reducing aid to the PA by the amount figured to go to terrorists’ “salaries.” Money for UNRWA, overseer of Palestinian refugee camps, has also been reduced. And the president and members of his administration have been outspoken about the American commitment to the security of Israel.

Precise language coupled with specific actions to differentiate the State of Israel from the not-a-state Palestinian Authority sets the stage for the presentation of the administration’s “peace plan” next month. Which, if it proceeds from these new assumptions, will be an important statement about the new realities in the region.

Shoshana Bryen is senior director of The Jewish Policy Center in Washington, D.C. and the editor of inFOCUS Quarterly.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.