Israel's parliament has approved a draft bill that could legalise thousands of Jewish homes built on privately owned Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank, a measure that has drawn condemnation by left-wing MPs and Israel's closest ally, the United States.
The bill, which was passed on Wednesday by a vote of 58-50, would apply to more than 2,000 Jewish homes built illegally in the occupied West Bank.
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There are still three more hearings to go in the Knesset before this will become law, but there is some way to go before that actually happens.
This bill is aimed at legalising unauthorised outposts, including Amona. The Amona outpost has been designated to be abandoned by the High Court, which said the settlers have to move out by December.
So this bill is a way of circumventing that. But there's an underlying message here - there is a battle going on between the Israeli government and the judicial system, and the knock-on effect if the government takes this on any further could be disastrous for the judicial system.
But although the government carried this by 58 to 50, it is not a foregone conclusion that this will become law. We understand from behind the scenes that Netanyahu perhaps will not proceed with this bill in the way it is, but it will be redrafted; there will be different wording - what it would say we don't know.
If this does become law, it opens up all kinds of scenarios. There will be deep concerns that there will be further settlements and outposts in the West Bank. It will also give concerns that the two-state solution is no longer a viable opportunity and that also causes all kinds of knock-on effects.
The measure must now pass through three readings in parliament and also be ratified by the Supreme Court before it can become law.
Isaac Herzog, who heads the opposition Labour party, said the bill contravened Israeli and international law and justified "theft".
Washington also described the Israeli parliament's decision as "troubling", and said it could pave the way for the legalisation of dozens of outposts built without Israeli government authorisation.
"This would represent an unprecedented and troubling step that's inconsistent with prior Israeli legal opinion and also break long-standing Israeli policy of not building on private Palestinian land," State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said.
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Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank are considered illegal under international law and have been major stumbling blocks in negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis.
Between 2009 and 2014, Israeli settlements expanded by 23 percent in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
More than half a million Jewish Israelis already live in more than 150 Jewish-only settlements across the West Bank and East Jerusalem, according to the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem.
Pushed by hardline members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government, Israeli parliamentarians said Wednesday's bill was needed to protect a Jewish outpost in the occupied West Bank called Amona.
The outpost is under a high court order to be demolished by December 25 because it was built on land privately owned by Palestinians.
The bill goes far beyond legalising Amona and would allow an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 Jewish homes built on Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank to be legalised.
However, Israel's Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has called the bill legally flawed in its current form, saying that it contravened private property rights legislation and did not tally with Israel's international law commitments.
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Netanyahu's government is considered to be the most right-wing in Israel's history, and key members of his cabinet are strong supporters of settlement building and opponents of a Palestinian state.
Last week, some members of Netanyahu's government said Donald Trump's US election win had put an end to a two-state solution with the Palestinians.
Netanyahu has been cautious in his comments since Trump's stunning victory, but has expressed confidence that he and Trump could work together to bring US-Israeli relations to "new heights".
The US already grants Israel more than $3bn per year in defence aid.
Source: Al Jazeera News And Agencies