It was not much of a constraint. Under Ottoman, British and Jordanian rule, plenty of Palestinian land had never been formally registered. Ownership derived chiefly from usage. Much of the rest was common land.
Israel seized these vast tracts that lacked title deeds, declaring them "state land" -- to be treated effectively as part of Israel and reserved exclusively for Jewish settlement. But even this giant land grab was not enough.
The settlers' territorial hunger led to dozens of "outposts" being built across the West Bank, often on private Palestinian land. Despite the fact they violated Israeli law, the outposts immediately received state services, from electricity and water to buses and schools.
Very belatedly, the courts drew a line in Amona and demanded that the land be returned to its Palestinian owners. The legalization law overrules the judges, allowing private lands stolen from Palestinians to be laundered as Israeli state property.
Israel's attorney general has refused to defend the law. Will the supreme court accept it? Possibly. The aim of the "traumatic" scenes at Amona was to depict the court as the villain of this drama for ordering the evictions.
Nonetheless, there could be silver linings to the legalization law.
In practice, there has never been a serious limit on theft of Palestinian land. But now Israeli government support for the plunder will be explicit in law. It will be impossible to blame the outposts on "rogue" settlers, or claim that Israel is trying to safeguard Palestinian property rights.
Dan Meridor, a former government minister from Mr Netanyahu's Likud party, called the law "evil and dangerous." Israel, he pointed out, can have jurisdiction over private Palestinian land only if Palestinians vote for Israel's parliament -- in short, this is annexation by other means. It shuts the door on any kind of Palestinian state.
Over time, he added, it will bring unintended consequences. Rather than make the outposts legal, it will highlight the criminal nature of all settlements, including those in East Jerusalem and the so-called "settlement blocs" -- areas previous US administrations had hinted they might accept for annexation to Israel in a future peace deal.
The other major danger was noted by opposition leader Isaac Herzog. "The train departing from here has only one stop -- at The Hague," he said, in reference to the home of the International Criminal Court.
If ICC prosecutors take their duties seriously, the legalization law significantly raises the pressure on them to put Israeli officials -- even Mr Netanyahu -- on trial for complicity in the war crime of establishing and nurturing the settlements.
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