Britain has criticised Israel, after the Jewish State’s parliament passed a contentious law meant to retroactively legalise thousands of West Bank settlement homes built unlawfully on private Palestinian land.
It is a step that is expected to trigger international outrage and a flurry of lawsuits against the measure.
The explosive law is the latest in a series of pro-settler steps taken by Israel’s hard-line government since the election of Donald Trump as US president.
He is seen as more sympathetic to Israel’s settlement policies than his fiercely critical predecessor, and the Israeli government has approved plans to build thousands of new homes on occupied territory since Trump took office.
UK Minister for the Middle East Tobias Ellwood said: “It is of great concern that the bill paves the way for significant growth in settlements deep in the West Bank, threatening the viability of the two-state solution.”
“As a longstanding friend of Israel, I condemn the passing of the Land Regularisation Bill by the Knesset, which damages Israel’s standing with its international partners.
“We reiterate our support for a two-state solution leading to a secure Israel that is safe from terrorism, and a contiguous, viable and sovereign Palestinian state.”
“We are voting on our right to the land,” Cabinet minister Ofir Akunis said during a stormy debate ahead of the vote.
“We are voting on the connection between the Jewish people and its land. This whole land is ours. All of it.”
Critics say the legislation enshrines into law the theft of Palestinian land, and it is expected to be challenged in Israel’s Supreme Court.
According to the law, Palestinian landowners would be compensated either with money or alternative land, even if they did not agree to give up their property.
The vote passed 60-52 in Israel’s 120-member Knesset following a raucous debate in which opposition politicians shouted from their seats at governing coalition MPs speaking in favour of the vote from the dais.
Some of those supportive of the law took pictures of the plenum during the vote while some spectators in visitors’ seats raised black cloth in apparent protest.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had voiced misgivings about the law in the lead-up to the vote, reportedly expressing concern that it could lead to international censure and saying he wanted to co-ordinate with the Trump administration before moving ahead on a vote.
He told reporters on a trip to London that he had updated Washington and was ready to move ahead with the law.
He was on his way back from the trip and was not present for the vote.
The White House’s immediate response was to refer to its statement last week that said the construction of new settlements “may not be helpful” in achieving an Israeli-Palestinian peace.
Mr Netanyahu’s attorney general has called the bill unconstitutional and said he will not defend it in the Supreme Court.
Critics have warned it could drag Israel into a legal battle at the International Criminal Court at The Hague, which is already pursuing a preliminary examination into settlements.
Among the law’s problematic elements is that the West Bank is not sovereign Israeli territory and that Palestinians who live there are not citizens and do not have the right to vote for the government that imposed the law on them.
Palestinians condemned the law.
“This is an escalation that would only lead to more instability and chaos. It is unacceptable. It is denounced and the international community should act immediately,” said Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
The Palestinians want the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, territories Israel captured in the 1967 war, for their future state.
Much of the international community views settlements as illegal and an obstacle to reaching peace with the Palestinians.
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