Homes in the Israeli settlement of Efrat in the occupied West Bank on Feb. 7. (Ammar Awad/Reuters)

Israeli human rights groups representing Arab villages in the West Bank petitioned the country’s high court Wednesday to block a contentious new law that would allow Israel to seize private Palestinian land and award it to Jewish settlers.

The first legal challenges to the law came amid especially blunt condemnation by Israel’s allies. The country’s own attorney general warned that the bill violated international law and was likely to be blocked by the high court.

Germany’s Foreign Ministry said Wednesday it was “deeply disappointed” in the bill, which has been called a “land grab” by its critics. “Our trust in the Israeli government’s commitment to the two-state solution has been fundamentally shaken,” a German Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

The German criticism echoed tough language by Britain, France, the European Union and the United Nations.

“As a long-standing friend of Israel, this bill damages Israel’s standing with its international partners,” said Tobias Ellwood, Britain’s minister for the Middle East.

(Reuters)

The bill “crosses a very thick red line,” Nickolay Mladenov, the U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, told Agence France-Presse.

The White House said the Trump administration was withholding comment until Israel’s courts rule on the legality of the bill. That could take weeks or longer.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to meet with President Trump at the White House next week.

All eyes in the region will be on the meeting, expecting that it will signal the depth of Trump’s support for Netanyahu and Israel, balanced against the United States’ Middle East allies.

Netanyahu supported the controversial bill, which passed the parliament along party lines, 62 to 50, late Monday.

In the days before the bill’s passage, Netanyahu and his defense minister announced that the state would build more than 6,000 homes in Jewish settlements, branded as illegal by most of the world and as “unhelpful” by the Trump White House.

The promised building boom in the settlements, coupled with the bill that allows the state to seize Palestinian land, has put the Trump administration in a corner.

Either the U.S. president will give a green light to Israel’s hard-right government, now more beholden than ever to its religious settlers, or Trump will warn Israel to slow down and will stake out his own position on the future of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Netanyahu is being pressed by the powerful settler movement, which maintains that the land was promised to Jews by God, to declare that the two-state solution is dead and to tell Trump he should forget about achieving the deal of the century, an Arab-Israeli peace accord that awards the Palestinians their own state.

Netanyahu has vowed he would go no further than a “state-minus” for the Palestinians, but he has not publicly given up on the two-state solution.

The first legal challenge to the law was filed Wednesday by Adalah, an Israeli group that advocates for Israel’s Arabs, who make up 20 percent of the population, and by Jerusalem-based Al Mezan Center for Human Rights.

In their petition, the groups’ lawyers argued that the Israeli parliament cannot legislate land issues for private Palestinians in the West Bank, who live under Israeli military occupation and military authority and are not Israeli citizens. The brief asserts that the new Israeli legislation violates international law and international treaties on human rights.

The legislation is designed to protect homes in Jewish settlements, built on private Palestinian property “in good faith or at the state’s instruction,” from possible court-ordered evacuation and demolition.

Privately owned Palestinian land would be seized by the government and held until there is a final resolution of the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Palestinian landowners could apply to the state for annual rents or be given other parcels.

Thousands of Jewish homes in dozens of settlements and outposts may now be protected unless the Israeli high court blocks the bill.

Netanyahu has been quiet about the bill’s passage.

Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Tzipi Hotovely, said: “Israel has both historic and legal rights to this land, and the law reaches the right balance between the rights of the Jewish families to their homes and the right of the owners of these plots of land to get compensation.”

Israeli lawmaker Bezalel Smotrich, who sponsored the bill, told the newspaper Maariv: “We are finished with beseeching legal advisers and judges. We will decide what will happen in the settlements. We will define the goals. If the legal system is able to tell us how to do this using the existing tools, very good. If it doesn’t know how to do this, we will change the tools.”

Ruth Eglash contributed to this report.