Political News

State Department says removal of 'Palestinian Territories' from website isn't policy change

Posted August 26, 2019 6:56 p.m. EDT

— The State Department on Monday denied that the removal of a listing for the Palestinian Territories from its website constituted a change in policy.

"Website is being updated. There has been no change to our policy," a State Department official said in a statement. Asked whether the listing would be added back to the website, the official reiterated that the site is being updated.

It is unclear when exactly the listing for the territories, which was once included as one of the "countries and other areas" under the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, was removed. It was active until at least February 2019, according to an archived version of the page. The State Department unveiled its modernized website in June 2019, and the link for the Palestinian Territories now redirects to a message about that modernization.

"Welcome to state.gov. We recently modernized our website. Part of this modernization was to reduce the number of pages on the current state.gov website by not moving items that are in existence on our archive sites. This keeps the content on the current state.gov current while older content remains intact and fully accessible on our archive sites," the message says.

The omission of the Palestinian Territories drew outrage from Palestinian officials.

The Palestinian Authority Cabinet, led by Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh, condemned the the move in its weekly meeting in Ramallah Monday. The Cabinet said the removal "confirms the American bias towards Israel,' the Prime Minister's media office told CNN.

Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Secretary General Saeb Erakat decried the move on Twitter on Sunday. On Monday, another senior PLO official, Hanan Ashrawi, took aim at comments made by President Donald Trump at the G7 meeting in France.

Speaking alongside Egypt's leader Abdul Fattah Al-Sisi, Trump deflected a question about the State Department's removal of the listing for the Palestinian Territories, but went on to say he thought the Palestinians wanted to make a deal with the Israelis, suggesting at least part of the reason was that they wanted the US to resume funding programs.

Trump's remarks reflected his "ignorance and limited knowledge of the complexities and the historical background of the Palestinian question," said Ashrawi, who was earlier in the year denied a visa to the US, in a statement.

"Using humanitarian aid as a coercive tool and de-funding schools and hospitals has destructive implications," the statement continued.

The Trump administration has repeatedly drawn scorn from Palestinian officials, including Ashrawi, over its actions related to the Israeli Palestinian conflict.

In May 2018, following the move of the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Ashrawi told CNN's Fareed Zakaria that "the US has dealt a serious blow, if not a death blow, to the peace process."

"It has disqualified itself as a peacemaker or an intermediary," she said.

In March, the administration closed the US Consulate General in Jerusalem, which had functioned as the US mission to the Palestinians since the 1990s. It shuttered the PLO office in Washington and revoked the visas of its US representative, Husam Zomlot, and his family. It has also cut millions of dollars in aid to the Palestinians.