A new Israeli law legalising dozens of unlawful West Bank settler outposts crossed a “very thick red line”, the United Nations’ Middle East envoy has said.
Israeli rights groups have said they will fight to overturn the measure in the Supreme Court.
The explosive law, approved by Israeli politicians late on Monday night, was 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.
Nickolay Mladenov, the UN’s co-ordinator for the Middle East peace process, said the legislation “opens the floodgates to the potential annexation of the West Bank”.
If Israel moves to solidify its control over the area, it would imperil the internationally backed idea of establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel as part of a negotiated peace deal, he said.
“It will have a drastic legal consequence for Israel and for the nature of its democracy,” Mr Mladenov said.
“It crosses a very, very thick red line.”
It is expected to trigger a number of challenges in the Supreme Court, while members of the international community have already begun to condemn it.
The law legalised dozens of outpost homes built unlawfully on private Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank.
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.
Critics say the legislation enshrines into law the theft of Palestinian land.
It also marked the first time that the Israeli parliament has imposed Israeli law on Palestinian inhabitants of the West Bank.
The area, captured by Israel in 1967, is not sovereign Israeli territory and Palestinians there are not Israeli citizens and do not have the right to vote.
The vote passed 60-52 in Israel’s 120-member Knesset.
The raucous debate saw opposition politicians shouting from their seats at governing coalition politicians speaking in favour of the vote.
Some spectators in visitors’ seats raised a black cloth in apparent protest.