The Biden administration on Wednesday reversed a change to the U.S. ambassador to Israel's Twitter account name to read, "the official Twitter account of the U.S. Ambassador to Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza" after a Washington Free Beacon report highlighting the shift.
For a time on Wednesday, the official Twitter feed for the U.S. ambassador to Israel had its title changed to add "the West Bank and Gaza," territories the United States has for decades avoided taking a stand on due to ongoing peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians. The title change sparked an outcry online, including among Republican lawmakers, and was quietly changed back to read only, "U.S. ambassador to Israel." The State Department would not comment on the initial change or why it was changed back to its original form.
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Embassy officials have speculated that the title was inadvertently changed by Twitter due to a technical glitch when the accounts were switched from the Trump administration over to the Biden administration. The Free Beacon could not confirm the veracity of these claims.
"The U.S. doesn’t have ambassadors to any other disputed territory in the world. Singling out Israel, once again, is wrong," said Len Khodorkovsky, former deputy assistant secretary at the State Department. "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."
During the Obama administration, former ambassador Dan Shapiro was referred to in official communications as the "U.S. Ambassador to Israel."
While President Joe Biden has said he would maintain the U.S. embassy facility in Jerusalem—which former President Donald Trump moved in a historic policy shift—it is likely he will put greater emphasis on Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which have long been stalled. Biden also will grapple with the last administration's decision to recognize the Golan Heights area along the Israel-Syria border as officially part of the Jewish state.
Reacting to the shift, Rep. Michael McCaul (R., Texas), lead Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said 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."
The title change also seemed to contradict comments by Biden's secretary of state nominee, Anthony Blinken, who said during his
confirmation hearing Tuesday that he would not seek to relocate the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem and would continue the tight security
relationship between the United States and Israel.
Jonathan Schanzer, a veteran Middle East expert and vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said the move could lead to significant 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," Schanzer said. "Clarification will be needed on whether America's diplomatic approach to Israel and the Palestinians is changing on day one of the Biden administration."
Update 2:59, 3:31 p.m.: This post has been updated with new information.