Biden human rights report equivocates on occupied Palestinian territory

Report maintains Trump-era omission of section on 'occupied territories' but uses term once in section on Israel

A picture shows an Israel military drill near Kibbutz Merom Golan in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights on March 17, 2021. / AFP / JALAA MAREY
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The first US report on human rights under President Joe Biden's administration continued the Trump-era tradition of eliminating a separate section on abuses in Palestinian “occupied territories”, which was included in the report for decades until 2018.

But in the annual State Department report, the Biden administration has not entirely omitted language referring to the Israeli occupation.

It says Israel “occupied” the West Bank, Golan Heights and Gaza Strip after the 1967 war.

“This section of the report covers Israel within the 1949 armistice agreement line, as well as Golan Heights and East Jerusalem territories that Israel occupied during the June 1967 war, and where it later extended its domestic law, jurisdiction and administration,” the Israel section states.

But straight after, the report referred to the fact that the administration of president Donald Trump recognised Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights in 2019 and declared Jerusalem the capital of Israel in 2017.

It did not say whether that decision included occupied East Jerusalem, which Palestinians hope to make the capital of a future state.

“Language in this report is not meant to convey a position on any final status issues to be negotiated between the parties to the conflict, including specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem or the borders between Israel and any future Palestinian state,” it says.

Lisa Peterson, acting assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labour, declined to say whether the Biden administration considered the West Bank to be occupied territory.

“We have presented the section as we have stated in previous years,” Ms Peterson said.

“This human rights report refers to the commonly used geographic names of the area the report covers. This is intended to delineate geographic areas.”

Under the Trump administration, the State Department reversed a decades-old legal opinion that found Israeli settlements in the West Bank to be in breach of international law.

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The Biden administration has shown no indication that it intends to reverse the Trump administration’s decision.

And while the it did not restore the report's separate section on the "occupied territories", it documented Israeli demolitions of Palestinian and Bedouin homes, as did the previous reports under the Trump administration.

Amnesty International USA said it was pleased to see the report mentioned home demolitions, which the Israeli government has used against Palestinian communities in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and Bedouin communities.

“The report, however, fails to mention the harm the Trump administration implemented by greenlighting Israeli annexation of the occupied Golan Heights, or the harm done to Palestinians by declaring Jerusalem Israel’s capital," Amnesty said.