The US State Department released its annual human rights report on Wednesday referring to the ‘Israeli-occupied’ Golan Heights as ‘Israeli-controlled’.
Golan Heights used to be described as ‘Israeli-occupied’ until this year's human rights report was released by the US State Department. The decision came amid intensified efforts by Israel to win US recognition of its claim to sovereignty over territory it captured from Syria during the 1967 Middle East war.
Israel's move to take over the territory in 1981 was a step that has never been recognised internationally.
Israel also claimed the West Bank and Gaza Strip during the June 1967 conflict. Under a UN Security Council resolution, the territories that Israel annexed are regarded internationally as occupied.
On Monday, Republican US Senator Lindsey Graham toured Golan Heights with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and pledged to lobby the Trump administration to recognise the area as belonging to Israel.
There was no immediate comment from Israeli leaders over the US change in terminology, which stopped short of a formal declaration accepting the territorial claim.
The terms ‘occupied’ and ‘under occupation’ are not included in a separate section in the State Department report on the West Bank and Gaza, referring to Palestinian territories.
It's ‘linguistic’, not policy
According to a State Department official, the report was focused on human right issues, not legal terminology. The official, commenting on the absence of those words said: "The policy on the status of the territories has not changed."
As of late, Palestinians have been concerned about the US commitment to the creation of a state of their own in the West Bank and Gaza, a pledge stemming from interim peace deals with Israel signed in the 1990s.
In 2017, US President Donald Trump broke with a decades-long policy and drew Palestinian accusations of pro-Israel bias by recognising Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
Last year, Trump moved the US Embassy to the contested holy city of Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.
New "US labels" for Palestinian lands "will not change the fact that this is occupied territory, in accordance with UN resolution and international law", said Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, referring to the State Department report.
US officials have said Washington would present a new Israeli-Palestinian peace plan after Israel's April 9 election, a plan that Trump calls “the deal of the century”.
Netanyahu travels to Washington later this month to address the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, and Israeli media reports said he also plans to hold talks with Trump, with Golan on the agenda.