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HHS secretary Becerra ‘misspoke’ at World Health Assembly when seeming to recognize ‘Palestine’

"There is no change in policy," a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson told JNS. "Secretary Becerra misspoke and was not recognizing Palestine as an independent state."

Xavier Becerra, then California attorney general, speaks at the 2019 California Democratic Party State Convention in San Francisco, Calif. Credit: Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons.
Xavier Becerra, then California attorney general, speaks at the 2019 California Democratic Party State Convention in San Francisco, Calif. Credit: Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons.

Xavier Becerra, the U.S. secretary of health and human services, did not mean to reflect a change in American policy when he referred during a speech at the 77th World Health Assembly to “Israel and Palestine,” a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services told JNS.

During his remarks in Geneva, Switzerland, Becerra appeared to recognize “Palestine” as a formal entity and referred to a “cycle” of violence between Israelis and Palestinians.

“The health and security of each nation is irrevocably connected to the health and security of people everywhere,” the former California attorney general said at the gathering of the body which is part of the World Health Organization, a U.N. agency.

“That is why the tragic, avoidable loss of life and cycle of destruction and dislocation between Israel and Palestine must stop immediately,” he added. “We need a ceasefire agreement that leads to the release of hostages, a surge in humanitarian assistance into Gaza, and the road to a two-state solution.”

“Palestinians and Israelis deserve to live safely, with dignity and in peace,” he said.

“There is no change in policy. Secretary Becerra misspoke and was not recognizing Palestine as an independent state,” a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson told JNS.

After JNS sought comment from the department, an official transcript on the U.S. department’s website now has “Israel and Palestine” crossed out and replaced with “Israelis and Palestinians.”

The department spokesperson also told JNS that the secretary was referring not to a “cycle” of violence between a close U.S. ally and a terror organization that Washington has designated for nearly 30 years.

HHS
A correction that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services made to a transcript of the secretary’s remarks following a JNS query on May 28, 2024.

“Secretary Becerra was discussing the dire humanitarian conditions on the ground in Gaza as a result of Hamas’s attack on Oct. 7,” the spokesperson told JNS.

Senior U.S. officials typically refer to “Palestinian Territories,” as the U.S. State Department does in a fact sheet, or to Gaza and the “West Bank.”

Also on Tuesday, Ireland recognized a “sovereign and independent” Palestinian state, joining Spain and Norway.

Bacerra offered U.S. support to Israel shortly after Oct. 7. He wrote on Oct. 12 that he had spoken the prior day with Moshe Arbel, then the Israeli health minister, “and offered my deepest condolences for the victims of Hamas’s brutal terrorist attack. I reaffirmed the United States’ solidarity with the government and people of Israel and asked about any potential health needs.”

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