A controversial bill that would legalize thousands of settler homes built on private Palestinian land in the West Bank was approved Wednesday for its first of three required readings in the Knesset before it becomes law.
The Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee along with the Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee voted in a joint meeting 8-5 to allow a revised version of the Regulation Bill to be brought to a plenum vote.
The first of the three readings on the bill will likely to be held later on Wednesday in the Knesset plenum.
Lawmakers gave preliminary approval to an amended version of the controversial bill late Monday amid a chorus of domestic opposition and international criticism that it was an illegal land grab.
Originally designed to avert the court-ordered demolition of the illegal outpost of Amona, the Regulation Bill was initiated by lawmakers from the national-religious Jewish Home party.
On Monday, harried government efforts to reach a compromise saw a clause that would retroactively override a High Court ruling to raze Amona by December 25 dropped from the bill. The bill would, however, recognize other settlements built on private Palestinian land.
Settlement watchdog Peace Now said the bill would legalize 55 outposts and 4,000 housing units in existing Jewish outposts and settlements in the West Bank, over some 8,000 dunams (3 square miles) of privately owned Palestinian plots.
Strong supporters of the bill rejoiced in the initial vote and said they hoped it could lead to eventual Israeli annexation of most of the West Bank.
Unsurprisingly, the legislation was slammed by the US, EU and UN as a breach of international law.
The US State Department on Tuesday called the legislation “profoundly damaging to the prospects for a two-state solution.”
“We’ve also been troubled by comments that we’ve heard by some political figures in Israel that this would be the first step in annexing parts of the West Bank,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said. “We hope that it does not become law. We certainly hope that changes or modifications can be made to it.”
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has warned that the bill breaches both local and international law, and indicated that the High Court was likely to strike it down.