Israel's ministerial committee for legislation has approved a controversial draft bill aimed at legalising wildcat Jewish settlements built on private Palestinian land, parliamentary sources say.
The bill must now pass through three readings in Parliament and also be ratified by the supreme court before it can become law.
Yesterday's vote was rushed through the ministerial committee in an attempt to prevent the evacuation of the Jewish wildcat outpost of Amona in the Israeli-occupied West Bank by the end of the year.
The supreme court has ordered the evacuation of settlers from Amona and the demolition of their homes by December 25.
Amona, near the West Bank city of Ramallah, is home to about 40 families and was built on land privately owned by Palestinians who had petitioned the court for the outpost to be removed.
In 2006, Israeli police demolished nine homes at Amona, setting off clashes pitting settlers and their supporters against police and soldiers.
Several dozen trailers have remained.
Amona is the largest of about 100 West Bank outposts built without permission but generally tolerated by the Government. These are in addition to 120 settlements that Israel considers legal. The international community considers all Israeli settlements in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank to be illegal, whether they are authorised by the Government or not.
They are also seen as a major stumbling blocks to peace efforts as they are built on land the Palestinians see as part of their future state.
The bill approved unanimously stipulates that the Government could order the confiscation of privately owned Palestinian land in exchange for compensation.
It was at the centre of a row between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who had sought to delay the vote and hardliners in his ruling right-wing Likud party.
One, Education Minister Naftali Bennett who heads the religious nationalist Jewish Home party, succeeded in rallying support for the vote leading the endorsement of the bill. "The state of Israel today began a historic process of regulating the settlements in Judea and Samaria," Bennett said, using the biblical names for the West Bank.
The anti-settlement Peace Now movement denounced the vote.
"It is a shame: the Government is backing a law that will allow the confiscation of privately owned Palestinian land in order to build settlements," said Hagit Ofran, one of the watchdog's leaders.
According to Ofran, around 2000 homes have been built on land owned by Palestinians in the West Bank, and therefore the draft bill could retroactively legalise these dwellings.
Israeli rights group Yesh Din condemned the bill calling it "a legal stunt designed to legally sanction takeover of Palestinian land in the West Bank".
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit warned the ministers that he would be unable to defend the bill before the supreme court.
A statement by Mandelblit said the bill "undermines private property and is contrary to Israeli law and international law", public radio reported.
Mandelblit also warned that if the bill were to become law it could spur many people to lodge official complaints with the International Criminal Court.
The passing of the draft bill came just days after Bennett, who champions settlement expansion, said that the idea of a Palestinian state was over after Donald Trump's election as United States President.
"Trump's victory is an opportunity for Israel to immediately retract the notion of a Palestinian state in the centre of the country, which would hurt our security and just cause," he said on Thursday.
"The era of a Palestinian state is over," he said.
Netanyahu yesterday urged ministers to refrain from commenting on Trump's presidency.