JERUSALEM — An Israeli ministerial committee on Sunday approved a contentious bill that would allow for the retroactive legalization of Jewish settlement outposts built on privately owned Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank. The measure breaks a longstanding taboo, and in the view of many experts, it defies international law.
The bill requires approval by Parliament before becoming law. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opposed its advancement now, presumably to avoid international censure. The attorney general has cautioned that he will be hard pressed to defend the legislation in Israel’s Supreme Court.
Israel’s pro-settlement camp has promoted the legislation, known as the Regulation Law, with increasing urgency as a Dec. 25 deadline approaches for the court-ordered destruction of Amona, an illegal outpost of 40 families on a West Bank hilltop claimed by dozens of Palestinian landowners and their heirs.
Treading a fine line between world opinion, his conservative Likud Party and his governing coalition, Mr. Netanyahu tried to delay the vote. He said it would harm the chances of a government request pending before the Supreme Court to postpone the demolition of Amona by half a year.
“There is no one who is more concerned about settlement than us,” Mr. Netanyahu said Sunday, in a nod to his pro-settlement constituency. But, he added, “sagacity and responsibility” are needed for the benefit of the settlement project as a whole.
Husam Zomlot, an adviser to Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, said that while all settlement was illegal, Sunday’s decision served to “reaffirm the Israeli government insistence on burying the prospects for peace.”
Israel’s expansion of settlements has outraged Palestinians and been a source of acute tension with the Obama administration, which views all settlement activity as illegitimate and an obstacle to peace. Most of the world considers the settlements in territory that Israel conquered from Jordan in the 1967 war to be a violation of international law.
President Obama is considering whether to publicly lay out his own parameters for a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before he leaves office, in a speech or in a resolution before the United Nations Security Council, a prospect Mr. Netanyahu has strongly opposed.
Instead of evicting the settlers, the Regulation Law would transfer the rights for the use of private land into Israeli hands and force the Palestinian landowners to accept compensation. While Israel’s highest legal authorities allow settlements in areas declared public land, private property rights have technically been preserved.
Naftali Bennett, a minister whose Jewish Home party promoted the bill, said Sunday’s action signified that Israel had embarked on “a historic process of normalizing the settlements in Judea and Samaria,” referring to the West Bank by its biblical name.
Critics said it represented a creeping annexation of the West Bank, with Parliament potentially imposing Israeli law in an area that the military authorities have overseen for nearly 50 years.
Tamar Zandberg, a legislator from the left-wing Meretz party, said the proposed law “says you are allowed to steal.”
Although the crisis over Amona preceded the American presidential election, Israel’s right wing has been emboldened by the victory of Donald J. Trump, with the settlements’ supporters believing that his administration will give them a freer hand.