Israeli parliament acts to legalize settlers‘ homes built in West Bank

JERUSALEM – Israel’s parliament on Monday passed a contentious law meant to retroactively legalize thousands of West Bank settlement homes built unlawfully on private Palestinian land, 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 U.S. president. Trump is seen as more sympathetic to Israel’s settlement policies than his fiercely critical predecessor, Barack Obama, and the Israeli government has approved plans to build thousands of new homes on occupied territory since Trump took office.

“We are voting tonight on our right to the land,” ­Cabinet minister Ofir Akunis said during a stormy debate. “We are voting tonight 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. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had voiced misgivings about the law in the lead-up to vote, reportedly expressing concern that it could lead to international censure and saying he wanted to coordinate with the Trump administration before moving ahead.

He told reporters on a trip to London that he had updated Washington and was ready to move ahead with the law.

The U.S. State Department said that “the Trump administration will withhold comment on the legislation until the relevant court ruling.”

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.

Netanyahu faced intense pressure from within his nationalist coalition, especially from the pro-settler Jewish Home party, to press ahead with the vote following the court-ordered evacuation last week of the illegal Amona outpost found to have been built on private Palestinian land.

Over 40 settler families were forced to leave the 20-year-old outpost, and on Monday construction vehicles demolished and removed the trailer homes that remained behind.

In London, Netanyahu sought the U.K.’s support for harsher sanctions on Iran over its recent missile tests, trying to build momentum for such penalties before he meets with Trump next week.

“I’d like to talk to you on how we can ensure that Iran’s aggression does not go unanswered,” Netanyahu said to Prime Minister Theresa May. Characterizing Iran as a menace to the world, he welcomed Trump’s imposing new sanctions after the first missile launch, adding, “I think other nations should follow soon, certainly responsible nations.”

In a statement released hours later, May said she recognized concerns about “Iran’s pattern of destabilizing activity in the region” while noting that the 2015 nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic was “vital” and must be “properly enforced and policed.”