The Israeli Knesset has voted to repeal legislation that ordered the evacuation of four northern West Bank settlements concurrent with Israel’s pullout from the Gaza Strip in 2005, paving the way for settlers to return.
The law passed on Tuesday repealed the clauses of the Disengagement Law that banned Israelis from the area where the settlements of Homesh, Ganim, Kadim and Sa-Nur stood.
The Knesset voted for repeal in the early hours of Tuesday by 31 to 18 in the 120-seat assembly. Other members did not vote.
In 2005, Ariel Sharon, Israeli prime minister at the time, enacted a law requiring unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the occupied Gaza Strip and the West Bank and the removal of 25 settlements in those areas.
Dozens of unauthorised outposts dot the occupied West Bank, in addition to scores of settlements. These outposts, which sometimes are little more than a handful of trailer homes but can also resemble small villages, are built without authorisation but are tolerated and even encouraged by Israeli governments.
The international community considers all Israeli construction on occupied land to be illegal.
The vote on Tuesday is the latest move by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right government, which is dominated by settler leaders and allies, to promote settlement activity in the territory.
Since 2005, Israeli citizens have been officially banned from returning to those locations, though the Israeli military has allowed activists to visit and pray there — a ban that has now been revoked.
Mr Netanyahu’s government has put settlement expansion at the top of its agenda and has already advanced thousands of new settlement homes and retroactively authorised nine outposts in the West Bank.
This week, Israel pledged to put a temporary freeze on settlement approvals, including authorisation of outposts, as part of a series of measures meant to ease tensions ahead of the period that includes the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the Jewish festival of Passover.
Still, ultranationalist members of Mr Netanyahu’s coalition pushed for a repeal of the ban on the northern West Bank settlements.
Tuesday's vote came as Mr Netanyahu’s government is pushing ahead with a separate plan to overhaul the country’s judicial system. His allies claim the courts have too much power in the legislative process and that the Supreme Court is biased against settlers.
Critics said the legislation would upend the country’s delicate system of checks and balances and push Israel towards authoritarianism.
They also said Mr Netanyahu could find an escape route from his corruption trial if the overhaul proceeds.
The Palestinians seek the West Bank and Gaza Strip as an independent state, with East Jerusalem as its capital. Israel captured those territories in the 1967 war.
Since then, more than 700,000 Israelis have moved into dozens of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Most of the international community says the settlements are an obstacle to peace with the Palestinians.