Israel passes law legalizing thousands of settlement homes

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 US president. He is seen as more sympathetic to Israel's settlement policies than his fiercely critical predecessor, 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 ahead of the vote. "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 in which opposition lawmakers shouted from their seats at governing coalition lawmakers speaking in favor of the vote from the dais. Some legislators supportive of the law took pictures of the plenum during the vote while some spectators in visitors' seats raised black cloth in apparent protest.

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