Some observers suggest the move to annul law retroactively legalising unauthorised settlements was aimed at deterring International Criminal Court scrutiny of the plight of Palestinians.
Israel’s Supreme Court has struck down a 2017 law, which retroactively legalised Israeli settlements built on private Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank.
The law would have authorised the existence of around 4,000 settlements in the region but was frozen shortly after it was enacted three years ago pending legal appeals.
Such illegal outposts take the form of isolated homes and hamlets, to extensions of existing larger settlements.
Eight out of nine judges on the court deemed that the presence of the unauthorised settlements was unconstitutional.
The ruling does not affect settlements built ‘legally’ according to Israeli law with approval from the Israeli occupation authorities. Under international law the settlement of Israeli citizens on land that is considered occupied Palestianian territory is illegal.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's rival, Benny Gantz, who leads the Blue and White Party that rules in coalition with Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc, welcomed the annulment of the law, promising his bloc would protect the court’s decision.
“In order for us to be united as a society, we must respect the rule of law,” he wrote on Twitter.
Netanyahu’s allies described the decision as a ‘left-wing extremist ruling’, according to the Jerusalem Post.
Likud called the ruling “unfortunate” and promised it would move to reintroduce and reenact the legislation.
More than 200 major Israeli settlements exist in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem with a total settler population of 620,000.
Though illegal under international law, Israel has provided these settlements with access to utilities and infrastructure, as well as unhindered road connections to Israel proper.
The result has been a parallel society in the occupied West Bank, in which Palestinians have to put up with the everyday realities of military occupation, such as restrictions on movement and lack of access to resources, while Jewish settlers can access all the trappings of the state.
The move by the Israeli judges comes as the International Criminal Court (ICC) proceeds with the initial stages of its inquiry into Israel’s treatment of Palestinians living under occupation and potential war crimes.
Israel can choose not to recognise the probe’s legitimacy by simply not complying with it but the issue is clearly a touchy matter for the state as demonstrated by its allies in Washington threatening individual members of the ICC with sanctions.
One way the Israelis can potentially avoid such scrutiny is by convincing the ICC that its own courts system is able to properly investigate any accusation of wrongdoing against the Palestinians and thereby maintain its jurisdiction.
The Israeli high court decision can therefore be pointed to as evidence of juristic credibility with regard to claims put forward by Palestinians.
That defence could itself prove moot if Israel moves, as promised, to annex the West Bank.
Netanyahu has voiced his confidence that such a measure would receive the support of US President Donald Trump.
The plan if it goes ahead would effectively kill off the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by making a territorially contingent Palestinian state unviable.