Israel has legalised three outposts in a move that critics say effectively establishes the first new Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian land in more than 20 years.
It immediately sparked condemnation from the Palestinians, who accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of pushing the peace process into another deadlock.
Israel's decision will also anger the international community, to which it has pledged repeatedly to dismantle unsanctioned outposts and refrain from approving new settlements, widely viewed as the main obstacle to an independent Palestinian state.
Instead, the current administration, dominated by hawkish pro-settler parties, has scrambled to find legal loopholes to evade court orders demanding the eviction of settlers from communities deemed illegal under Israeli law, and tighten Jewish control over the West Bank, claimed by the Palestinians as the basis of their future state.
Palestinians fear the decision to legalise Bruchin, Sansana and Rehalim, home to hundreds of Jewish settlers, will serve as a precedent to protect some of the other 100 West Bank outposts. But the government insisted that was not the case, saying it was merely "formalising the status" of the enclaves, and that all of them had been established by previous administrations in the 1980s and 1990s, but that some procedural issues had remained unaddressed.
The international community views all Jewish settlement in the West Bank and East Jerusalem – territory captured along with Gaza in the 1967 Six-Day War – as illegal. Israel, however, differentiates between settlements, which it has approved, and outposts, which it just tolerates.Reuse content