The Knesset Education and Culture Committee on Wednesday approved a bill that would allow museums in West Bank settlements to apply for state funding.

The bill is to be brought before the Knesset for its first reading next week, over the objections of representatives of the Justice Ministry and the Defense Ministry.

If the bill becomes law, 15 museums in various Jewish settlements, including Kiryat Arba, Ma'aleh Adumim and Ariel could apply for funding.

The architects of the bill said on Wednesday that such a law would mean the first time the Knesset would require the defense minister to apply Israeli law in Judea and Samaria.

The law passed its preliminary reading in the Knesset about two months ago by a vote of 51 to 9.

MK Uri Ariel (National Union ) who initiated the bill, said on Wednesday: "If the state decides that it funds and encourages culture among its citizens, it must be done without discriminating among its citizens. Moreover, Judea and Samaria are the cradle of the Jewish nation, and the treasures exhibited in these museums are the historical proof of our ownership of the country. The fact that these museums have not yet been funded is absurd."

Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat said she supported the law, which she said has been under discussion for years. She said supporters of the bill had wanted a military order to be issued that would allow the Ministry of Culture and Sports to financially support the museums, but since that did not happen, "there was no choice but to go to legislation."

Among the museums in the territories is one in Ma'aleh Adumim devoted to the works of the late Moshe Kastel, the Museum of the History of the Etzion Bloc in Kfar Etzion and the Land of Judah archaeological museum in Kiryat Arba. During the discussion in the Knesset committee, the committee's legal adviser, Merav Israeli and representatives of the Justice Ministry said they opposed the direct application of Israeli law to the museums.

Rather, they were in favor of giving the Defense Ministry more time to allow a military order - issued by a senior officer, usually the general of command - to permit the allocation of funding to them.

Edna Harel of the Justice Ministry said her office had been working on the military order, and it was now waiting only for the signature of the general of command.

Even if the bill becomes law, it would not mean that any institution in the territories calling itself a museum would automatically be funded. In order to receive recognition for funding purposes by the Ministry of Culture and Sports a museum must apply to the Museums Council by submiting a detailed description of its work and a program of its exhibitions, its permanent collection, its building etc.

Currently the state provides some NIS 40 million in funding to the country's museums. Unless the budget is increased, the addition of more museums to the list will hamper funding to those already on the list.