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Forget Friedman. The State Dept doesn't know how much of the West Bank is occupied either

While disavowing the American ambassador’s erroneous assertion that only 2% of the West Bank is occupied by Israel, the State Department spokesperson isn’t able to answer how much of the territory is actually occupied. (Hint: All of it.)

State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert addresses reporters at the daily press briefing. (State Dept photo)

State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert addresses reporters at the daily press briefing. (State Dept photo)

U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman caused a small stir Thursday by erroneously stating that Israel only occupies 2 percent of the West Bank. The Israeli army rules over the entirety of the West Bank under military law, of course, making it 100-percent occupied.

The truth of the matter is that nobody took Friedman’s remarks all that seriously, although the whole affair made for some great headlines. Despite being the White House’s official envoy to Israel, Friedman is known for speaking for himself instead of in his official capacity. So nobody was too surprised.

What was surprising, was that when asked to clarify, the State Department itself could not — or would not — answer how much of the West Bank actually is occupied by Israel.

In an exchange with Associated Press reporter Matt Lee at the State Department’s daily press briefing Thursday, Spokesperson Heather Nauert disavowed Friedman’s comments, stating multiple times that Friedman’s version of reality does not indicate a shift in U.S. policy.

Then things got weird.

Here is a transcript of the exchange (Video, from 25:00 minutes):

Matt Lee: [A]mbassadors to every country are supposed to speak for and with the authority of the President of the United States. Do you not see that this is causing confusion?

And then as a purely factual matter, how much of – what percent of the West Bank does the United – does the administration believe is occupied?

Heather Nauert: I don’t know that we have a map of that or that we have —

Lee: You’ve got a lot of maps on that.

Nauert: Do we have a lot of maps?

Lee: Oh, yeah.

Nauert: Do we?

Lee: Yes.

Nauert: Okay. Well, see, you all pre-date me here. I’ll go pull out some —

Lee: Heather, do you —

Nauert: — the dusty shelves.

Lee: You have many, many, many, many maps.


There you have it. Somewhere on the dusty shelves of Foggy Bottom, there are many, many maps that might be able to shed some light on what the United States’s policy in the Middle East actually is.

Or maybe it’s this map:

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    1. JeffB

      Welcome to the Trump administration. There is no USA policy. The Defense department often has a policy. The State Department can have a policy that is completely unconnected with defense. State Department policy should not be confused with the policy of leading figures in State, which can be entirely different. Finally USA intelligence services often have their own policies. And then of course there is the president who makes random and wild remarks which no one really considers policy but might have influence on policy if they become too specific to ignore.

      On this Israel is not alone.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        As both videos Michael supplies illustrate when taken together, this “policy” nonsense did not start when the ludicrous Trump came along. The absurdities run much deeper and longer.

        Reply to Comment
        • JeffB


          I think the West Wing is rather amusing. I’ve always though “non recognition” was an insane policy. Any entity which can establish a final monopoly of force on a territory that has the support of a government which is backed by at least a substantial percentage of the population of that territory should be recognized as the government of that territory. The USA has been bad about non-recognition but the situation with Israel and the Arab governments are simply insane.

          The State department, and your position on the West Bank similarly are nuts.

          That being said, the degree of crazy has changed with Trump. Israeli policy was almost always uniquely nuts but with Trump this sort of policy divergence happens across the board. Israel may be one of the countries experiencing the least shift.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            “…backed by at least a substantial percentage of the population of that territory…”

            It’s backed by zero percent of the population of that territory. The persons physically inside that territory at this time who back it are Israeli civilians transferred into occupied territory illegally, in violation of the 4th Geneva Convention. To say otherwise implies that a military occupier can get around the clause forbidding civilian population transfer by first transferring in population and then getting the transferred to recognize the occupier as sovereign. An reverse-logic absurdity of criminal deceit. (Don’t trouble yourself to reply with the subterfuge that GCIV allows signatories to transfer one’s “own” civilian population or that the direction of transfer matters–it does not.)

            What is insane is well outlined here:

            Reply to Comment
          • JeffB


            To say otherwise implies that a military occupier can get around the clause forbidding civilian population transfer by first transferring in population and then getting the transferred to recognize the occupier as sovereign

            Yes that’s exactly what I’m saying. Consider the alternative you are proposing. A population transfers in. Under your theory they have no representation. And then a sovereign is installed without their consent or support. This situation is seen as permanent. So under your theory you have an ethnic group that is permanently disenfranchised. That’s apartheid.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            “Yes that’s exactly what I’m saying….”

            This is kind of a masterpiece of twisted, fairy tale logic. “A population transfers in.” Yes, they were just taking a stroll and thought they liked the scenery and decided to stay. Lah dee dah. Innocent little lambs. And their fleece was white as snow. And everywhere that Ayalet went the lambs were sure to go. And everyone assented to that all around. And everyone was happy. Until a darn “sovereign got installed.” Just like that. And without the consent of the innocent lambs who decided to stay. And “it is seen” as permanent.

            Notice folks, the careful, sneaky use of the passive tense throughout. The passive, almost biblical tense. It was all passive and innocent and legal. It just, um, happened. Once upon a time. As if in another land and another time. Except in reality it was the opposite of all that. But we are inside fairy tale logic now. Now poor Little Bo Peep has lost her sheep and can’t tell where to find them! Oh no! Now, “you have an ethnic group that is permanently disenfranchised. That’s apartheid.”

            JeffB, sorry to be so rude as to interrupt your fantasy, but for you to invoke “apartheid” as a justification for the calculated, deliberate illegal transfer of civilian population into occupied territory in violation the Fourth Geneva Convention, and in the context of the genuine apartheid that actually exists in the entity comprising Israel and the territories it occupies, is about as twisted as it gets.

            But look, JeffB, you want a solution to all this don’t you? You’re a problem solver, right? You want, as you say, “representation.” So let’s look at the real alternatives, not the imaginary one you pose. The obvious solutions are two.

            (1) Re-transfer the population that concerns you (or if you like, “a population transfers out…”) back to the country they belong to where they already have the most comprehensive, loving, solicitous representation imaginable. Or,
            (2) Full annexation of ALL the territories and extension of the franchise to all, one man one vote.

            I’m gonna take a wild guess here and conjecture that JeffB is suddenly going to have all sorts of hesitations and misgivings about either (1) or (2). The real not imaginary alternatives. Miles of pettifogging “let’s not be hasty” hemming and hawing is sure to follow. And it will all be very, very complicated and another fifty years of “negotiations” are sure to follow. And meanwhile, back at the farm, everywhere that Ayalet went, the lambs were sure to go.

            Reply to Comment
          • JeffB


            You can scream and yell about pettifoggery and so forth. In real life the Khmer Rouge shared your position about #1 and that was seen as a crime against international law. The Vietnamese were not obligated to ethnically cleanse Cambodia of Vietnamese ethnics. Much as you would object the arguments that apply to protecting the Palestinians population in Israel would apply to the Israeli population in a future Palestinian state.

            As for #2 there is no requirement that a state take territory it has no intention to govern. You can keep asserting that a state needs to claim territory it doesn’t want, but that’s simply not true. And moreover there are examples of many states that don’t claim territory they might otherwise have valid claim to.

            Ultimately sure, I suspect the whole West Bank ends up annexed by Israel. But there very easily could be a transition period. If the world’s diplomatic goal with Israel become that they annex all of the West Bank, and they can get concession from the UN in exchange for that annexation that ain’t a terrible position to be in.

            The fact is the United States has maintained a territory, Puerto Rico, where the citizens until recently did not want statehood nor independence. It was officially a colony where the people who lived their liked being in a colony. The UN really wasn’t sure how to handle that.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            You are bemusing, JeffB. You can use slippery misrepresentations all you want but it doesn’t change things in real life. Let us count the ways.

            First misrepresentation: Ben “screams and yells.” He does not. Perhaps you mistake your being squarely confronted with being screamed and yelled at? I’ll leave that for you and others to sort out with you. I wouldn’t dream of intervening.

            Second. The Khmer Rouge? That’s offensive. Who are you kidding? The Vietnamese illegally transferred their civilian population into Cambodia with the intention of annexing Cambodia? Again, who are you kidding? And those who would ask the Israelis to withdraw their illegally transferred population and reverse a crime (the transfer into the West Bank was a crime against settled international law) – something the Israelis could do without violating the human rights of a single Israeli – are akin to the Khmer Rouge? That’s offensively brazen. You treat us to yet another offensive historical pseudo-analogy to put on the shelf beside the French Huguenots, the Belarussians, the French Canadians….

            (“a crime against international law” — since when did YOU become a champion of international law? The hypocrisy is lost on you?)

            Third: When you say things like “they can get concession from the UN in exchange for that annexation that ain’t a terrible position to be in,” I hear a lawyer for an organized crime outfit talking.” I hear John Gotti’s or Al Capone’s lawyer talking.

            Fourth: I have not asserted that Israel “needs to take territory it has no intention to govern.” You said that. I said that Israel needs to solve a problem it created and problem solving is different than illegal land grabbing and bantustan-creating. There is a difference, JeffB, but you have to have an honest exchange about that to come to grips with it, not a slippery, mob-lawyerly evasion outbreak as in “Your Honor my client Mr. Capone is simply a businessman….”

            Fifth: Puerto Rico! Put it on the shelf next to “Khmer Rouge”! You never stop!

            Reply to Comment
    2. J. Szanton

      What is the “right direction” that you claim to know? And if the “occupation” is 100%, then what does area A, area B area C mean as far as administration , security, infrastructures, taxation, etc. mean?

      Reply to Comment
      • JeffB

        +972 by right direction I think means in the direction of greater support for human rights. The authors are a bit divided beyond that. And often conflict with themselves on what are rights. Not sure what the rest of your question means.

        Reply to Comment