The Biden administration refused to admit that the West Bank is occupied – the next day it refused to admit that Israel has nuclear weapons

Michael Arria

Mondoweiss  /  February 1, 2023

Last week the State Department refused to admit that Israel is occupying the West Bank or that the country has nuclear weapons.

As a result of the recent violence in the region, Israel and Palestine were consistent topics during last week’s State Department briefings.

On January 26 Al Quds’ Said Arikat asked State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel if the Biden administration considered Palestinians living in the West Bank to be occupied. Patel would not give a straight answer:

Said Arikat of Al Quds newspaper: What is the status of the Palestinian people in the West Bank, including Jenin… and everywhere else in the West Bank? It’s a simple question. Are they under occupation?

Patel: Said, let me say a couple of things to the point that I believe —

Arikat: 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?

Patel: Said, the recent period has seen a sharp and —

Arikat: 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?

Patel: Said, 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.

The West Bank has been illegally occupied by Israel since 1967, and the United Nations Security Council has consistently reasserted that Israeli settlements in the region are a “flagrant violation of international law.”

On January 27, independent journalist Sam Husseini asked Patel whether or not the administration would acknowledge that Israel possesses nuclear weapons, which they’ve had since the 1960s. Once again, Patel would not confirm or deny.

Husseini: Thank you. Archbishop Desmond Tutu died a year ago – a little over a year ago. His last published article was an admonition to this administration entitled, “Joe Biden should end the U.S. pretense over Israel’s, quote, ‘secret’ nuclear weapons.” “The cover-up has to stop,” read the headline. And with it, he called for the U.S. to use laws to cut off funding to human rights abusers, citing Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians as well as nuclear proliferators.

Tutu, of course, headed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He ended the piece, “There are a few truths more critical to face than a nuclear weapons arsenal in the hands of an apartheid government.” Will you here today acknowledge the obvious truth that Israel has a nuclear weapons arsenal, or will you continue with this “cover-up,” as the archbishop referred to it?

Patel: What I will say is that we recognize the very real security challenges facing Israel and the Palestinian Authority and condemn terrorist groups planning and carrying out attacks against innocent civilians. And we also mourn the innocent – loss of innocent lives and regret injuries to civilians. But I don’t have any specific comment to offer on what you asked.

Husseini: Israel has had nuclear weapons for decades, and you can’t acknowledge that Israel has a nuclear weapons arsenal?

Patel: I’m going to work the room a little. Alex, go ahead.

Husseini: You expect us to believe what you’re saying from that podium, and you can’t acknowledge the empirical reality of Israel’s nuclear weapons?

Patel: Go ahead, Alex.

Patel’s nonanswers come amid one of the deadliest recent periods for the West Bank and East Jerusalem. On the same day that Patel refused to admit that the West Bank was occupied, ten Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces in a Jenin raid. The next day a Palestinian killed six Israeli settlers and a Ukrainian woman in the illegal settlement of Neve Yaacov. Israel has increased its raids and arrests while Palestinians protest and armed resistance groups carry out operations.

Israeli settlers have also carried out attacks on Palestinian people and property, with the officials reporting 144 incidents of violence on just one recent night. Settlers destroyed 200 olive trees belonging to Palestinian farmers in the villages of Aqraba and Majdel, and attacked an Armenian restaurant in Jerusalem.

In Turmus Ayya Israelis threw stones at Palestinians, pepper sprayed them, and vandalized their homes with inscriptions like, “Death to the Arabs” and “Revenge.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken is currently in Israel, meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “In the context of this..escalating violence, it’s important that the Government and people of Israel know America’s commitment to their security remains ironclad,”

Blinken told reporters today. “That commitment is backed up by nearly 75 years of United States support.  America’s commitment has never wavered.  It never will.  And today the prime minister and I discussed ways that we can continue to strengthen our partnership and our shared security interests.”

Michael Arria is the U.S. correspondent for Mondoweiss