Feb. 6 (UPI) -- Israeli lawmakers passed a bill Monday to allow the government to take over private Palestinian land in the West Bank to protect Jewish settlements there.
Parliament members voted 60-52 to favor the measure. The legislation allows the Jewish government to effectively hold the land until an agreement is reached in the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Last year, the United Nations passed a resolution calling on Israel to cease building settlements on Palestinian land in the West Bank and dismantle those built after 2001. Monday's bill seeks to retroactively protect about 4,000 of those homes.
"To our friends in the opposition who are surprised that a nationalist government would pass a bill in favor of the settlements -- that's democracy," Bayit Yehudi party leader Naftali Bennett said.
Those who voted against the measure said they fear such action could generate global anti-Israel sentiment and give the illusion that Tel Aviv is annexing Palestinian land -- similar to what Russia did with Crimea in 2014. One lawmaker called the measure the "robbery bill."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he supports the bill, and noted that he informed the White House that a vote on the matter was coming.
"This government is passing a bill that is an acute danger to the State of Israel," lawmaker Isaac Herzog, who opposed the bill, said. "Never in the history of Israel has the Knesset passed a bill against state laws and against the senior legal advisers of the government.
"This legislation is de-facto annexation."
Palestinian officials said the move, which could be challenged in Israeli court, is an illegal "land grab."
Roughly 400,000 Jews live in West Bank settlements that most of the international community consider illegal.
"I am concerned by the ... so-called 'Regularisation Bill' as it would enable the continued use of privately-owned Palestinian land for Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank," United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov said in a statement. "If adopted into law, it will have far reaching legal consequences for Israel and greatly diminish the prospects for Arab-Israeli peace,"