On January 20, when the power was shifting hands in the U.S. from Trump to Biden, the official Twitter account of the U.S. ambassador to Israel was changed briefly to U.S. Ambassador to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. It was reverted to U.S. ambassador to Israel quickly but screenshots were already taken, raising speculations over the potential change in the foreign policy.
Several sections of policymakers and media condemned the step.
Controversial move on day one – Michael McCaul
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said that it was troubling to see that the administration opted to go ahead with the controversial move on ‘Day 1’ that too without consulting with the Congress.
Some have raised concerns that the change may reflect how the Biden administration is planning to deal with Israel, its settlements in the West Bank and the territories under Palestinian control (Gaza). McCaul further added, “It also seems to fly in the face of comments made by Antony Blinken yesterday. I strongly urge the president to clarify this provocative move quickly.”
LR @RepMcCaul: “I’m glad to see this situation has been addressed and am hopeful it was not a signal of the direction this administration plans to take towards its Israel policy.”— House Foreign Affairs GOP (@HouseForeignGOP) January 20, 2021
In a follow-up, he said that the situation was swiftly addressed, and it “was not a signal of the direction this administration plans to take towards its Israel policy.”
Republican Senator Rick Scott of Florida, a known critic of Biden, accused the new administration of showing hostility to Israel. He said, “There is no country of West Bank or Gaza, only territories that Israel has been willing for decades to negotiate sovereignty over but has been met with only hostility and terrorism.”
The Biden Admin title change for the @USAmbIsrael shows the Democrats’ hostility to Israel. There is no country of West Bank or Gaza, only territories that Israel has been willing for decades to negotiate sovereignty over but has been met with only hostility and terrorism. https://t.co/8TIjQQrxJO— Rick Scott (@SenRickScott) January 20, 2021
Biden’s pick for secretary of State, Antony Blinken, had said that the USA would not change its embassy from Jerusalem. The sudden inclusion of West Bank and Gaza was noted as a contradiction to what Blinken had said. NPR’s Daniel Estrin reported the whole series of events and said that a spokesperson from the U.S. Embassy in Israel said it was an inadvertent edit and it does “not reflective of a policy change.”
Change of power
At 11:51 AM, David Friedman, President Trump’s ambassador to Israel, issued final goodbye to the account. It was taken over by the office of Jonathan Shrier, at the U.S. Embassy in Israel. The whole controversy erupted during that period. The account was reverted within two hours of the change. The Statement Department did not provide any official statement on the account change.
Signing off now, moving to @DavidM_Friedman. Thank you President Trump for the honor of a lifetime. Thank you @Mike_Pence, @MikePompeo, @SteveMnuchin1, Jared Kushner, @AviBerkow45, @Robertcobrien and @LightstoneA. And eternal thanks to my beloved Tammy.— U.S. Ambassador to Israel (@USAmbIsrael) January 20, 2021
It has to be noted that Biden has stated that he intended to restore relations with the Palestinian Authority. The name change has angered the Palestinians as well. Salem Barahmeh, Executive Director, Palestine Institute for Public Diplomacy, questioned if the U.S. administration has ‘reduced’ them to the West Bank and Gaza.
Have we been reduced to the West Bank and Gaza? Not even the courtesy of the occupied Palestinian Territories, which is in accordance with int’l law?— Salem Barahmeh (@Barahmeh) January 20, 2021
Shame on us if we expect any more from this administration. Shame on us for letting our national project get to this point. pic.twitter.com/7K7pYcbgDU
Trump administration had recognized Israeli establishments in West Bank as part of Israel
In 2019, the Trump administration had recognized Israeli settlements in the West Bank as part of Israel. It contradicted the U.S. policy in place that viewed the communities as in conflict with international law. At present, the U.S. does not have any diplomatic relations with the Gaza strip and has designated Hamas, which controls the area, as a terrorist organization.