WASHINGTON – An annual US government report on human rights worldwide in 2017 has dropped reference to the Palestinian territories as “occupied” for the first time since 1979.

The State Department report, released on Friday, now lists its section on Israel and the territories by their names: Gaza and the West Bank, alongside the Golan Heights, de facto annexed by Israel from Syria in 1981. Before 1979, the report only listed Israel, without mentioning the disputed territories.

Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005 and has no administrative control there. But it maintains full security control over the West Bank/Judea and Samaria through military occupation, and continues to approve construction for Israeli settlers to live there.

The 2017 report includes one reference to the territory being occupied.

“Israeli authorities did not permit Palestinians who were abroad during the 1967 War or whose residence permits the Israeli government subsequently withdrew to reside permanently in the occupied territories,” it reads. “It was difficult for foreign-born spouses and children of Palestinians to obtain residency. Authorities required Palestinian spouses of Jerusalem residents to obtain a residency permit with reported delays of several years to obtain them.”

The Trump administration has been mum on Israel’s presence in the West Bank relative to its predecessors. The US president characterizes Israeli settlement activity as “unhelpful” to the pursuit of peace, but has declined to explicitly endorse a two-state solution to the conflict.

His ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, referred to Israel's policy as an alleged "occupation" in an interview with The Jerusalem Post last year. He reportedly directed the State Department in December to stop using the term altogether.

"The lie of the occupied Palestinian territories begins to be revealed," Israel's Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman wrote in response to the new report on Twitter.

"They say that a lie repeated often enough becomes true, but the truth is always stronger. The State Department report is proof of that," Liberman wrote.

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