Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday announced the U.S. will break from decades of policy and will no longer view Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank as "inconsistent with international law."
This marks a stark departure from the policies of previous administrations and a 1978 State Department legal opinion issued under the administration of former President Jimmy Carter.
Israeli settlements are among the most heated topics in foreign affairs and this move could derail any hope of peace and a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians.
Palestinian leaders decried the announcement as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a Trump ally who is fighting for his political survival, expressed gratitude.
The Trump administration on Monday announced a major shift in U.S. policy toward Israel that could make it virtually impossible to advance peace efforts in the Middle East.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. will no longer view Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank as "inconsistent with international law."
This effectively means the US will no longer adhere to a 1978 State Department legal opinion issued under the administration of former President Jimmy Carter, which determined the settlements violated international law.
"Calling the establishment of civilian settlements inconsistent with international law has not advanced the cause of peace," Pompeo said on Monday. "The hard truth is that there will never be a judicial resolution to the conflict, and arguments about who is right and who is wrong as a matter of international law will not bring peace."
In late 2016, the Obama administration declined to veto a landmark resolution in the UN Security Council that demanded a halt to all Israeli settlement in the occupied territories. The U.S. abstained from a vote on the resolution, which described the settlements as a "flagrant violation" of international law, and it passed 14-0.
Saeb Erekat, the secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which conducts peace talks behalf of Palestinians, in a statement on Monday slammed the Trump administration over this announcement.
"Once again, with this announcement, the Trump administration is demonstrating the extent to which it's threatening the international system with its unceasing attempts to replace international law with the 'law of the jungle,'" Erekat said. "Henceforth, the international community must take all necessary measures to respond and deter this irresponsible U.S. behavior, which poses a threat to global stability, security, and peace. "
Israeli settlements are among the most divisive topics in conversations on the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict. The settlements have long been considered illegal by the international community and are widely seen as one of the key obstacles to a two-state solution, which has consistently been the goal of the US government.
Trump continues to hand gifts to Netanyahu at the expense of regional stability
Monday's announcement is part of a series of decisions the Trump administration has taken that represent a stark turn away from years of U.S. policy toward Israel, such as President Donald Trump's decision earlier this year to recognize Israel's annexation of the Golan Heights. This new decision could further undermine Palestine's efforts to achieve statehood.
By continuously taking stances that are in line with more extreme elements of Israeli politics, which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has increasingly embraced, the Trump administration has decreased the likelihood of a deal between Israel and the Palestinians.
The Israeli government's spending on West Bank settlements has skyrocketed since Trump was elected, according according to official data analyzed by the Associated Press. And the Trump administration's latest move could be viewed as a greenlight to expand settlements, which could exacerbate tensions and lead to more violence.
Netanyahu, a Trump ally, in recent months has vowed to annex all Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, where roughly 400,000 Israeli settlers and 2.8 million Palestinians live.
In an August speech, the Israeli leader said: "With God's help we will extend Jewish sovereignty to all the settlements as part of the (biblical) land of Israel, as part of the state of Israel."
At the time, Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said Netanyahu's remarks were a "continuation of attempts to create an unacceptable fait accompli that will not lead to any peace, security or stability."
Netanyahu, whose political career is in jeopardy after he failed to form a coalition following recent elections, on Monday celebrated the Trump administration's decision.
The Israeli prime minister in a statement said the US has "adopted an important policy that rights a historical wrong" and "reflects an historical truth."
"The Jewish people are not foreign colonialists in Judea and Samaria," Netanyahu said. "In fact, we are called Jews because we are the people of Judea."
Netanyahu added: "Israel is deeply grateful to President Trump, Secretary Pompeo and the entire US administration for their steadfast position supporting truth and justice, and calls upon all responsible countries who hope to advance peace to adopt a similar position."