Israel's outgoing attorney general has okayed a deal between the government and West Bank settlers that would retroactively authorize an outpost established without official approval, Israeli media reported Wednesday.
The move pushes forward the deal, which still needs a final green light from the country's Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who signed on to the plan last year.
It puts further strain on the country's fragile, ideologically-diverse governing coalition, which includes parties that support and oppose Palestinian statehood.
Under the agreement reached last year, the settlers left the outpost peacefully and the area became a closed military zone, with the houses and roads erected remaining in place. As part of the deal, a survey was carried out which, according to media reports, determined that part of the land was not owned by Palestinians, paving the way for the establishment of a religious school and for some settler families to return.
Israel's Justice Ministry declined to comment. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Critics said the retroactive approval of the wildcat outpost was a reward for settlers who break the law, at a time when settler violence against Palestinians has surged.
Michal Rozin, a lawmaker with the Meretz faction, which is part of the government and supports Palestinian statehood, said the approval was "a victory for the violence of the outlaws in the outposts," noting in a tweet that the move violated the coalition's decision to avoid divisive issues to ensure its stability.
The settlers named the outpost Evyatar, after an Israeli killed by a Palestinian in 2013, and say it was home to dozens of families. The deal to remove the settlers came just after the country's fragile government was formed and appeared to have been struck as a way to avoid the media spectacle of troops forcibly dragging away Israeli families.
Palestinians in nearby villages say the outpost was built on their land and fear it will grow and merge with larger settlements nearby. Before the settlers left, Palestinians held near-daily protests which led to violent clashes with Israeli troops.
Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Six-Day War and the Palestinians want it to form the main part of their future state.
Nearly 500,000 settlers live in more than 130 settlements that are authorized by Israel as well as dozens of outposts the state views as unlawful across the West Bank territories. Israel has repeatedly granted these rogue settlements retroactive approval.
The Palestinians and much of the international community view all settlements as a violation of international law and an obstacle to peace.