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21 Jan, 2021 02:23

Acting US ambassador to Israel ‘inadvertently’ reverses Trump-era Palestine policy upon taking control of official Twitter account

Acting US ambassador to Israel ‘inadvertently’ reverses Trump-era Palestine policy upon taking control of official Twitter account

The incoming US envoy to Israel briefly styled himself ambassador to the West Bank and Gaza on Twitter, raising diplomatic eyebrows by reversing his predecessor’s policy of Israeli sovereignty over the Palestinian territories.

Acting US Ambassador to Israel Jonathan Shrier, who assumed his position on Wednesday with the rest of the newly minted Biden administration, briefly took on some extraterritorial responsibilities via his Twitter account, which temporarily described him as head of the US mission to Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza.

While the changes were reversed within hours and described as “an inadvertent edit, and not reflective of a policy change” by a spokesperson for the US embassy in Israel, they nevertheless generated consternation among some US lawmakers – and Israelis. 

Republican Congressman Michael McCaul (Texas) called the shift “incredibly troubling,” urging Biden to “clarify this provocative move quickly.”

Some saw the name change as indicating the Biden administration did not consider the West Bank and Gaza part of Israel – a view that would reflect the territories’ status under international law, but fly in the face of former president Donald Trump’s controversial recognition of Israeli sovereignty over what the United Nations recognizes as Palestinian territories illegally occupied by Israel.

Under the Obama administration – the last time Biden held public office – the territories were viewed as occupied, though then-president Barack Obama presided over a dramatic expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank and increased the amount of foreign aid given to Israel to a whopping $3.8 billion over 10 years.

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Despite the hint of a return to Obama-era policies, however, incoming Secretary of State Anthony Blinken stated during his confirmation hearings on Tuesday that there was no plan to reverse Trump’s decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, suggesting at least some of Trump’s alterations to the US’ diplomatic view of the Palestinian territories were here to stay.

The controversial embassy move led to the Palestinian Authority cutting off diplomatic relations with Washington, but Palestinian leaders have held out hope that Biden will reverse some of the Trump administration’s blatant favoritism toward Israel, including potentially reopening the US consulate in Jerusalem. The consulate had served as the diplomatic mission to Palestinians before Trump rolled it into the new Israeli embassy in the city.

Shrier was Deputy Chief of Mission for the US Embassy in Jerusalem prior to assuming his current role, in which he replaced David Friedman, who like Trump himself was considered a favorite of Israel’s right-wing Jewish settlers. Biden has not yet appointed an official replacement for Friedman.

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The Biden administration had hinted it would reverse some of the Trump administration’s moves that antagonized Palestinians, including reestablishing diplomatic relations with the Palestinian Authority, which oversees the West Bank. The Trump administration last year controversially recognized Israeli sovereignty over the many Jewish-only settlements in the territory, which are illegal under international law and would severely complicate any efforts to realize a two-state solution.

Despite Trump’s fealty to the state of Israel, PM Benjamin Netanyahu was one of the first foreign leaders to call to congratulate Biden on his electoral victory. Trump nevertheless touted the “Abraham Accords,” in which several of Israel’s Arab neighbors opened official diplomatic relations with the country, as one of his signature accomplishments as president during his outgoing speech on Tuesday.

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