The Knesset took one more step toward de facto annexation of the West Bank on Wednesday by advancing a bill, in a preliminary reading, that would apply a 17-year-old law to Israelis living in Judea and Samaria.This is “one more step toward the normalization of the settlements in Judea and Samaria that we set as our goal at the start of this government’s term,” said the bill’s author, MK Bezalel Smotrich of Bayit Yehudi, ahead of the 48 to 39 vote.The bill, which allows settlers to file petitions to the administrative courts, including on land issues, must now pass three readings in the plenum before it becomes law.Smotrich argued that the law is necessary to address issues of legal inequity between Israeli citizens living within and beyond the Green Line. It would also allow those Israelis living in Area C of the West Bank to turn with land issues to the administrative courts rather than to the High Court of Justice, which often rules against them, he said.Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni charged that all such arguments “disguised” the true intent of the law, which was part of a “campaign to annex the West Bank.”If approved, the legislation would not apply to Palestinians living in Area C of the West Bank, Livni said.“It may seem like there are pertinent arguments for this law,” Livni said. “But it is another law in the series of laws designed to create an apartheid state with two types of citizens without equality. It is against Judaism and against the Jewish state. We are obliged to fight against this law. I plan to do so, even if you photo-shop me in pictures with Nazi uniforms or a bikini or as a Palestinian Wonder Woman,” Livni declared. Other left-wing parliamentarians warned that such moves are a form of “creeping annexation.”Area C of the West Bank, where all the settlements are located, is outside the legal purview of the Knesset and is under Israeli military and civilian rule.The full application of Israeli laws to Area C is considered to be the necessary ingredient for the de facto application of Israeli sovereignty to that area, otherwise known as annexation.Right-wing legislators in the 20th Knesset have pushed forward such legislation, arguing that the legal interpretations that have prevented the application of such laws to Judea and Samaria are erroneous. They have also argued that the 400,000 Israelis who live in Area C deserve “normalization,” which is the ability to benefit from the same laws as all Israelis.The High Court of Justice is already examining a petition by left-wing groups that believe that such steps are contrary to international law and past Supreme Court rulings.On Sunday, the Ministerial Legislative Committee approved government support for Smotrich’s bill, which would allow settlers the right to file legal appeals before the administrative courts with regard to policy decisions by their municipalities and regional or local councils.In 2000, the Knesset passed legislation that created administrative courts as a new branch of the district court system. These courts hear policy appeals on issues of local governance that, prior to 2000, went directly to the High Court of Justice, explained attorney Dan Illouz of Legal Grounds, a rightwing organization that promotes Israel’s right to all of the Land of Israel.The legislation is not automatically applicable to Judea and Samaria, whose residents must turn immediately with such issues to the High Court of Justice, Illouz told The Jerusalem Post. Smotrich told the Knesset, “There is no reason in the world why the residents of Judea and Samaria have to turn to the High Court of Justice for everything. These High Court hearings are complicated, expensive, and in general do not turn out well for the residents,” Smotrich said, as he urged the promotion of the bill. It is also significant that this would include land issues, particularly with regard to illegal building, he told the Knesset.Statistics show that the High Court is biased in its procedures and rulings against the residents of Judea and Samaria, he said. For example, he said, 87% of petitions by Palestinians against settlers receive temporary injunctions, compared with 17% by Jewish Israelis against Palestinians.The High Court also holds twice as many hearings with regard to Palestinian cases, and they move twice as fast, Smotrich said.“The High Court has lost the trust of the public to debate these cases,” he concluded.