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US 'Deeply Concerned' Over Proposal to Legalize Settlements on Private Palestinian Land

FILE - A basketball court is seen in the settler outpost of Amona near the Jewish settlement of Ofra, north of Ramallah, March 1, 2011.

The United States says it is "deeply concerned" over an Israeli measure that would legalize Jewish settlement outposts built on private Palestinian land.

A committee of Israeli government ministers approved the bill Sunday. It now goes to the Israeli parliament for the first of three separate readings and possible approval by the Supreme Court.

"If this law were enacted, it could pave the way for the legalization of dozens of illegal outposts deep in the West Bank," State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said Monday. "This would represent an unprecedented and troubling step that's inconsistent with prior Israeli legal opinion and also break longstanding Israeli policy of not building on private Palestinian land."

Trudeau added the Jewish settlements are "corrosive to the cause of peace."

The controversial measure is aimed at stopping the Supreme Court-ordered evacuation of the West Bank settlement of Amona by December 25.

The bill is causing a split in Israel's coalition government, with religious hardliners supporting it and others condemning it as land theft, even though the Palestinians are compensated.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also opposes the measure, accusing ministers of acting hastily before the Supreme Court has a chance to consider postponing the December 25 evacuation.

The United States and human rights groups have consistently condemned Jewish settlements on land Palestinians want as part of a future state. The Palestinians call it a major roadblock to peace.

Israel regards the settlements as part of its security and says the Palestinian refusal to recognize a Jewish state is the impediment to peace.