US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday evening Trump administration believes Israeli Jewish settlements in the occupied are no longer illegal.
The establishment of Israeli settlements “is not, per se, inconsistent with international law,” Pompeo said, rolling back decades of policy in Washington.
Pompeo’s move throws out a 1978 State Department legal opinion that stated that Israeli settlements violate international law.
Written by then-State Department legal adviser Herbert Hansell, the 41-year-old legal opinion has long been the basis of US policy towards Israeli settlements.
Hansell said at the time that Israel was "a belligerent occupant" of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula and Syrian Golan Heights.
Pompeo's announcement comes after a series of staunchly pro-Israel measures taken by US President Donald Trump since he came into office, including a contentious decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Trump also recognised Israel's hold on the occupied Syrian Golan Heights in March, a move that drew international criticism and raised fears that the US administration would green-light Israel's annexation of the occupied Palestinian territories.
Under the Fourth Geneva Convention, to which the US is a signatory, an occupying power cannot move its civilian population into territory it occupies.
There are approximately 200 official Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, with around 620,000 residents, according to Israeli human rights group B'Tselem.
The group said on Monday that the Trump administration's "farcical announcement doesn't just green-light Israel's illegal settlement project, but also other human rights violations around the world by obliterating the principles of international law".
The move also pushes "the world over 70 years backwards", B'Tselem said.