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Palestinian president slams US for dropping word 'occupied' from human rights report

Israeli soldiers next to a sign in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights [AFP/Getty Images]

Date of publication: 14 March, 2019

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The US State Department human rights report changed its description of the Golan Heights from 'Israeli-occupied' to 'Israeli-controlled' territory.
A spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has criticised a US move to no longer refer to the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights as occupied territories in its annual human rights report.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh described it as "a continuation of the hostile approach of the American administration toward our Palestinian people and... contrary to all UN resolutions".

The US State Department report released on Wednesday referred to the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights without describing them as occupied, rupturing with decades of practice that recognise the territories as such under international law.

The 2018 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices referred to the Golan Heights, which Israel captured in 1967 and annexed in 1981, as "Israeli-controlled territory" instead of the previously used "Israeli-occupied".

In a statement carried by official Palestinian news agency WAFA late Wednesday, Rudeineh said the change was part of US President Donald Trump's plan to "liquidate" the Palestinian cause.

Trump is expected to unveil his long-awaited plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace in the coming months, even though the Palestinian leadership has frozen contact with Washington over Trump's 2017 declaration of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

The initiative, led by Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, has already been slammed as "dead in the water" for its outright neglect of the key Palestinian demands for peace.

Read more: Bankrolling Kushner's Middle East Plan

Netanyahu has been pushing for the United States and other countries to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the Golan, which it uses as a strategic buffer zone between itself and long-time adversary Syria. 

In a subsequent section on the Palestinian territories, the report did not use the words "occupied" or "occupation" to describe the West Bank or Gaza Strip, which were also seized by Israel in 1967.

Although Israel ostensibly withdrew from Gaza in 2006, it still maintains a blockade on its land and sea borders, and frequently carries out military operations inside its borders.

Last year's report dropped the "occupied territories" designation from the heading for the first time, but still referred to the West Bank and Golan Heights as "occupied" or "under occupation" within the text itself.

The US State Department insisted the different wording did not mean a change in policy. A State Department source said "We retitled the HRR to refer to the commonly used geographic names of the area the report covers," according to Haaretz.

The change in geopolitical terminology comes just days after Senator Lindsey Graham visited the Golan Heights and vowed to push for official US recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the territory.

The inclusion of Jamal Khashoggi's murder in the report also garnered attention. The report said the US-based columnist was killed by Saudi agents while he was inside its Istanbul consulate. Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman was not mentioned although many believe was behind the killing of the royal critic.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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