Reporting on Jerusalem, State Department struggles how to say it

After decades of sticking to one policy, the Trump administration is seeking to change the language it uses in referring to Israel and the Palestinian territories.

An Israeli flag is seen near the Dome of the Rock, located in Jerusalem's Old City  (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
An Israeli flag is seen near the Dome of the Rock, located in Jerusalem's Old City
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – Under guidance from the Trump administration, the US State Department shed use of the term “occupation” in reference to the Palestinian territories, simply referring to regions once lumped into that category by their names: Gaza, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights.
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But faced with new questions on its policy toward Jerusalem after moving the US Embassy in Israel there earlier this month, and recognizing the city as Israel’s capital, the department felt compelled to clarify its status in a report published on Monday.
In the Israeli section of its annual report on international religious freedom, the government chose to awkwardly divide its references: Israelis in Jerusalem are described in one tab, under a section titled “Israel and the Golan Heights,” while issues concerning Arabs in Jerusalem are addressed in the following section, titled “West Bank and Gaza.”
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That’s because “on December 6, the United States recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” the report reads. “It is the position of the United States that the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final-status negotiations between the parties.”
Without using the popularized term, the report acknowledges that the Palestinian Authority “exercised varying degrees of authority in the West Bank and no authority over Jerusalem.”
The annual report is the second in two months to drop reference to the “occupation” – a term that has been used by consecutive US administrations, across parties, since 1979. The first report assessed human rights around the world and referenced the “occupation” in the body of the text.
The Trump administration has been mum on Israel’s presence in the West Bank relative to its predecessors. The US president characterizes Israeli settlement activity as “unhelpful” to the pursuit of peace, but has declined to explicitly endorse a two-state solution to the storied conflict.
His ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, referred to Israel’s policy as an “alleged occupation” in an interview with The Jerusalem Post last year. He reportedly directed the State Department in December to stop using the term altogether.