Israel's parliament passed a contentious bill that legalised settlements on Palestinian land, in direct contradiction of a recently passed UN Security Council resolution, on Monday (6 February).
The measure passed in the Knesset by a vote of 60-52 and is the first time Israel has sought to impose its law on the West Bank – a move that has been labelled an illegal land grab.
Thousands of homes in dozens of settlements on Palestinian land are now protected from court-ordered evacuations. However, the bill is likely to be challenged in Israel's high court.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu championed the bill and said no other leader had done more for Israeli settlers as he returned from a meeting with British Prime Minister Theresa May.
However, members of his own Likud party and opposition groups derided the move as reckless and warned that it goaded prosecutors at The Hague to take action.
Benny Begin, a Likud legislator and son of former Prime Minister Menachem Begin, called the law "the robbery bill".
Dan Meridor, the former justice minister and a long-time member of Likud until he founded the Centre Party, condemned the bill as "evil and dangerous".
He argued by trying to impose the Knesset's authority on Palestinian land – rather than control them militarily – Palestinians would have the right to become Israeli citizens.
"Don't cross a line we've never crossed before," Meridor pleaded with fellow legislators in a newspaper column. "No government in Israel has applied its sovereignty to the West Bank."
The Palestinian Authority said the measure was "an illegal land grab," the Washington Post reported. Former Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erekat said it exposed Israel's "true face" of "apartheid and colonialism".
The Joint List, the main Israeli Arab party, also blasted the law, saying "it legitimises the crimes of the occupation, legitimises the theft of Palestinian land, executes the diplomatic solution [to the conflict] and seals off any chance of peace," according to Haaretz.
Immediately after the bill, a Hamas rocket was fired into Israel from the Gaza strip – injuring no one – and was met with tank fire and air strikes from the Israeli military, wounding at least three people.
Knesset lawmakers who supported the bill said it was an "historic" day for Israel.
Bezalel Smotrich, of the Jewish Home party and one of the instigators of the bill, told the Jewish Post: "This is a historic story day for the settlements and for the State of Israel. On this day the State of Israel determined that the development and promotion of the settlement in Judaea and Samaria is in the Israeli interest."
He added: "From now on, we will continue to apply our sovereignty and build settlements all over our land."
Prior to the bill's passing, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, urged Israel's Knesset not to go ahead.
"If adopted into law, it will have far reaching legal consequences for Israel and greatly diminish the prospects for Arab-Israeli peace," he said in a statement, noting that the bill is in contravention of international law.
According to the Washington Post, Netanyahu spoke with US President Donald Trump about the move. The pair are scheduled to meet in Washington DC next week.
In Britain, MPs are due to debate Israeli settlements on Thursday (9 February) in the House of Commons.