JERUSALEM - Israeli MPs on Wednesday voted down a bill to retroactively legalise settler homes built on private Palestinian land, quashing an attempt to circumvent the court-ordered demolition of an outpost.
The move effectively ends an attempt by the settler lobby and its rightwing supporters to find a legislative solution to get around a Supreme Court ruling ordering the removal of five buildings from an outpost known as the Ulpana neighbourhood by July 1.
The bill, which was proposed by MP Zevulun Orlev from the ultra-nationalist Jewish Home party, was voted down by 69 votes against to 22 in favour within the 120-seat Knesset. The remaining 29 MPs were absent.
A second, very similar bill, was taken off the parliamentary agenda by its author, Yaakov Katz, who belongs to the far-right National Union faction.
The planned demolition, which would affect 142 people, has sparked fury among settlers and their backers, and exposed a split within Netanyahu's own rightwing Likud party.
Netanyahu had made clear he opposed the bills on the grounds they would create an international backlash, and widespread media reports said he had threatened to sack any cabinet minister or deputy who backed the proposed legislation.
Outside the Knesset, around 2,000 people who had gathered to support the legislative attempt to prevent the demolition, reacted angrily to the vote.
"Jews do not evict Jews!" they chanted, expressing anger at what they said was Netanyahu's betrayal of the Ulpana settlers.
Among the crowd was a group of around 250 settlers who had completed a three-day march to Jerusalem from from Ulpana, which is located on the outskirts of the Beit El settlement near Ramallah.
Despite a commanding majority of 94 within the 120-seat coalition, Netanyahu has struggled to rein in the far-right members of his ruling Likud party, many of whom said they would back the bills.
A handful of ministers and deputy ministers who had publicly vowed to back the draft legislation, despite the threat of losing their positions, were absent from the session.
Netanyahu has said he backs the idea of physically relocating the five buildings, moving them stone by stone to a new location, in a plan which is being examined by Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein.
Israel differentiates between "legal" settlements and "illegal" outposts, but the international community views all settlement on occupied territory as a violation of international law.
According to a poll published on Wednesday, nearly six out of 10 Israelis -- 57.7 percent -- said the Supreme Court's decision to raze the buildings should be honoured, while 42.8 percent said the ruling should be circumvented by legislation.
The poll, which had a margin of error of 4.5 percent, was conducted by Shvakim-Panorama on behalf of OneVoice, an international grassroots movement which seeks to amplify the voice of Israeli and Palestinian moderates.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) said the bills were "a step up in trampling the individual rights of Palestinians and in the contempt for the rule of law in the Occupied Territories, while blatantly disregarding High Court rulings."
And an editorial in the left-leaning Haaretz newspaper said the bills' hid "criminal intent to retroactively approve illegal and unauthorised construction on West Bank land owned by helpless Palestinians.