Did Biden govt change US envoy to Israel's Twitter handle? New name features Gaza and West Bank, changes back
The Twitter account of the US ambassador to Israel was changed to “the official Twitter account of the U.S. Ambassador to Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza” but returned to the original name of “U.S. Ambassador to Israel” soon
Under Donald Trump, the US’ policies towards Israel and Palestine were controversial. The mercurial Republican, whose eventful tenure at the White House concluded on Wednesday, January 20, displayed a one-sided backing for Israel and took radical decisions like recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish State and shifting the American Embassy in Israel there from Tel Aviv.
Soon after stepping into Washington DC’s power corridors, Trump’s successor displayed signs that the days of Trump’s disputed Israel-Palestine policy were over, but not for long. The administration of President Joe Biden changed the name of the Twitter account of the US ambassador to Israel to “the official Twitter account of the U.S. Ambassador to Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza” but returned to the original name of “U.S. Ambassador to Israel”. A report in the Washington Free Beacon highlighted the 360-degree turn by the new administration. The website of the embassy was still called 'U.S. Embassy in Israel'.
The US has over the decades avoided taking a stance on territories like the West Bank and Gaza because of the peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians. The change of the title, however, did not go down well with the Republicans who are still fighting it out over Trump’s controversial legacy. According to the Free Beacon report, the name was changed to the original one following a cry online and the state department would not comment on the initial change or why the U-turn ended up as an O-turn.
A technical glitch with transfer of power?
The report also cited embassy officials speculating that the title was inadvertently altered by Twitter because of a technical glitch when the accounts changed from the Trump to the Biden administration. The report though could not confirm the accuracy of such claims. January 20 also marked the end of the tenure of David Friedman as the American ambassador to Israel. He paid a visit to the Western Wall at Jerusalem’s Old City before exiting from the post he had been serving since May 2017.
A former state department official also criticized the move. “The US doesn’t have ambassadors to any other disputed territory in the world. Singling out Israel, once again, is wrong,” Len Khodorkovsky, former deputy assistant secretary at the state department, was quoted as saying. “Instead of building on all the progress that’s been made toward peace in the Middle East, the Biden administration seems to be reversing course toward the failed policies of the Obama years,” he added. During the days of the Barack Obama administration of which Biden was a key figure, diplomat Dan Shapiro was officially referred to as the “US Ambassador to Israel”.
Texas Republican Representative Michael McCaul, who is also the lead Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, slammed the move on Twitter. “It’s incredibly troubling the administration made this controversial move on Day One, [without] consulting w/Congress. 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,” he said, responding to the Free Beacon article written by Adam Kredo.
LR @RepMcCaul "It's incredibly troubling the administration made this controversial move on Day One, w/o consulting w/Congress. 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." https://t.co/7fGdDli18i— House Foreign Affairs GOP (@HouseForeignGOP) January 20, 2021
Biden to keep US embassy in Jerusalem
That the Biden administration will continue with its predecessor’s policy of keeping the US embassy of Israel in Jerusalem became clear on Tuesday, January 19, when new Secretary of State Antony Blinken affirmed it at his Senate confirmation hearing. When GOP Senator Ted Cruz asked Blinken: “Do you agree that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and do you commit that the United States will keep our embassy in Jerusalem?”, the latter responded: “Yes and yes”.
However, it was still believed that Biden will put a bigger emphasis on the long-stalled peace talks between the two disputing sides. The new president is also likely to face challenges over Trump’s move to recognize the Golan Heights area along the Israel-Syria border as officially a part of Israel. The Free Beacon cited Jonathan Schanzer, a Middle East expert and vice president for research at the DC-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, felt the unclear move could lead to important policy changes.
“One can interpret this in two ways: On the one hand, it could be a recognition of the fact that the East Jerusalem Consulate is no longer, thus underscoring that the embassy in Jerusalem is the central clearinghouse for all things related to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. On the other hand, it also seems to imply that all three territories are to be treated with equal recognition — and that might mark a significant change in policy. Clarification will be needed on whether America’s diplomatic approach to Israel and the Palestinians is changing on day one of the Biden administration,” he said.
The Jerusalem Post cited a spokesperson in the embassy as saying that the longer title “was an inadvertent edit”. “This is not a policy change or indication of future policy change,” the source said.