The US State Department refused to describe Palestinians in the West Bank as living under a military occupation during a heated exchange between journalists last week. State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel brushed aside questions about Washington’s view on the status of the occupied West Bank in the wake of an Israeli military raid that killed ten Palestinians in Jenin.
“What is the status of the Palestinian people in the West Bank, including Jenin… and everywhere else in the West Bank?” Said Arikat of Al-Quds newspaper asked Vedant. “It’s a simple question. Are they under occupation?”
Patel refused to answer the question despite being asked repeatedly to clarify the position of the US regarding the status of the West Bank. At one point Patel shockingly said that the status of the Palestinians is that “they reside on those territories.”
Frustrated at not getting an answer, Arikat asked if the West Bank is considered a “different planet” and if the US “subscribes to the fact that they are under military occupation?” Patel refused to answer the question.
“Vedant, are they occupied or are they not occupied? What is the status that you give the Palestinians right at this moment? What kind of status do they have?” Arikat insisted.
Patel again refused to answer, deflecting the question by focusing on the escalation of violence and calling for peace and calm in the region. “I’m not talking about a recent period. I am saying about legally, how do you designate the Palestinians in the West Bank? What is their status?” Arikat asked to know for a fourth time.
“I understand the question you’re asking, and I – as we’ve said previously, it is vital for both sides to take action to prevent even greater loss, and we condemn any violence, escalation, or provocation,” said Patel.
Under International law the West Bank and Gaza is Israeli occupied territory. Experts in international law say that given the length of the occupation and given that Israel has no intention to ever withdraw, the correct designation is that it is an illegal occupation. The International Court of Justice has been asked to issue an opinion on that very matter.