The Knesset (Israel's parliament) on Wednesday approved a preliminary reading of a controversial bill that would allow the Israeli authorities to impose the death penalty against Palestinians involved in "operations against Israeli targets".
Proposed by the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party, the bill's first reading was approved by a vote of 52 to 49. A second and third reading, however, must be approved before it becomes law.
The legislation has been heavily endorsed by Avigdor Lieberman, Israel's hardline defense minister, and was part of an earlier coalition agreement with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party.
The agreement brought Yisrael Beiteinu into Israel's coalition government and allowed Lieberman to obtain -- albeit temporarily -- the foreign affairs portfolio.
In televised comments last week, Lieberman said the legislation would specifically target Palestinians convicted of attacking Israeli civilians and soldiers.
Last year, Netanyahu voiced his support for applying the death penalty to those he described as "terrorists with blood on their hands".
Because of Israel's dual legal system, which generally tries Israelis in civilian courts and Palestinians in military courts (where the death penalty would be introduced), Israelis would generally not face execution for killing Palestinians.
"The fact that Israel lacks a constitution allows its prime ministers to enact legislation that serves the interests of their respective racist governments," Mohammad Dahleh, a Palestinian expert on Israeli affairs, told Anadolu Agency.
"Israel refuses to adopt a constitution," he said. "This allows it to create laws -- or modify them -- commensurate with its expansionist tendencies."
Yasser al-Amouri, a Palestinian expert on international law, said the new legislation violated basic international legal tenets.
"The conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis is not criminalist in nature but nationalist," he said.
"This means Israel can't sentence Palestinian prisoners to death under the provision of the Fourth Geneva Convention relating to the treatment of prisoners of war," he explained.
Issa Qaraqe, head of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)'s committee on detainees, for his part, told Anadolu Agency that the new legislation would allow Israel to "retaliate" against Palestinian prisoners with "legal cover".
"The occupying state of Israel should not apply its laws to the Palestinian people. Palestinian prisoners must be protected in line with international law; they should not be treated as convicted criminals," he said.
Qaraqe urged the international community to intervene on behalf of Palestinian prisoners and pressure Israel to abide by its obligations under international law.
According to official Palestinian figures, roughly 6,400 Palestinians are currently being held in prisons and detention facilities throughout Israel.