The United States hastened to clarify its position regarding the Golan Heights on Wednesday after a first-time reference to the region as “Israel-controlled” provoked a congratulatory reaction from Israeli officials who took it as signaling a change in policy.
Until now, the term “Israeli-occupied” was used to describe the Golan, as well as Yehudah and Shomron.
But in the State Department’s 2018 Human Rights Report, published on Thursday, the Golan was called “Israeli-controlled.” In the carefully nuanced language of official documents it was noticed, and interpreted as a significant departure.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein immediately praised President Donald Trump: “The people have long been with the Golan. Now Trump is too,” Edelstein tweeted.
“Thank you President Trump for another important step on the right and just path,” he added.
At a Wednesday State Department press conference in Washington, though, Ambassador Michael Kozak from the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor sought to persuade reporters that this was an overreaction.
“My understanding is that there is no change in our outlook or our policy vis a vis the territories and the need for a negotiated settlement there,” Kozak said.
As to the reason for the change in language, he explained, “We decided not to use the term [“occupied”] in the reports because it’s not a human rights term and it was distracting,” Kozak said. “Occupied territory” has a legal meaning, he said, and since the report was on human rights, replacement language was found.
Whether Kozak’s explanation will satisfy Israelis who leapt at the change, or those, like Arab lawmaker Ayman Odeh, who denounced it, remains to be seen.
“Trump and Netanyahu are trying to deny — and the centrist parties tend to stammer — but in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem there is an occupation and no wording will succeed in rewriting history,” Odeh wrote on Twitter.