On Monday, the Israeli government announced that the commission, headed by retired Supreme Court Justice Edmond Levi, and charged with responding to the 2005 Sasson Report (on the government of Israel’s complicity in West Bank settlement expansion), had issued its findings. Here’s Adam Horowitz writing about it on Monday:
Earlier this year Benjamin Netanyahu formed an Israeli government panel to judge on the legality of the settlements. The panel was headed by former Supreme Court justice Edmond Levy and was intended to respond to the 2005 Sasson Report on government complicity with the settlement project (and possibly head off an impending UN study into the settlements). Today, the “Levy Committee” issued its findings and among other things declared that Israel is not an occupying force in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
With regard to Israel’s legal status in the West Bank, the Levy Committee declared that Israel is not an occupying power. The panel arrived at that conclusion after considering two conflicting legal approaches on the question.
The first approach, presented by elements generally identified with the left, holds that Judea and Samaria are “occupied territories” under international law, ever since they were captured from the Jordanian kingdom in 1967.
According to this approach, as a military occupier, Israel is subject to international restrictions governing occupation, first and foremost the Hague Regulations with regard to the laws and customs of ground warfare, and the Fourth Geneva Convention with regard to protecting civilian populations in times of war.
Under these covenants, an occupier must manage the area and maintain order while taking care of its security needs and the needs of the civilian population until the occupation ends. There is a prohibition against damaging private property, and the occupier is also banned from moving any of its own population to settle in the occupied area.
The committee also heard conflicting legal opinions, submitted by elements identified with the right, such as the Regavim movement and the Binyamin Regional Council. They presented the position that because Judea and Samaria were never a legitimate part of any Arab state, including Jordan, Israel is not an occupying power.
As such, the conventions dealing with management of occupied territories and their populations are not relevant to Israel’s presence in Judea and Samaria.
With regard to the Geneva Convention and its Section 49, which forbids an occupier from transferring any of its population to settle in the occupied area, the right-wing groups argued that this section was formulated after World War II and was aimed at preventing the forced transfer of populations, a situation that isn’t relevant to Judea and Samaria.
Members of the panel accepted the legal opinion presented by the right. They explained that the generally accepted concept of occupation relates to short periods in which territory is captured from a sovereign state until the dispute between the two sides is resolved. But Judea and Samaria have been under Israeli control for decades, and it is impossible to foresee a time when Israel will relinquish these territories, if ever.
Late Tuesday, the Israeli government provided an English language translation of the eight-page report. It has been reprinted at this link.
The report does not contain the word “Palestine.” It consistently refers to the Occupied West Bank as “Judea and Samaria.” Nor does the report specifically mention Palestinian people.
Reactions to the report have been fairly predictable, even if its far-reaching conclusions were somewhat surprising. The Netanyahu government, as of this writing, has not made an official response to the report’s validity.
Writing Monday in The Atlantic on-line, commentator and staunch Zionist Jeffrey Goldberg observed:
What this means, if implemented, is simple: The Israeli government would treat West Bank land as if it were land in Israel proper (pre-1967 Israel). Now, of course, if Israel were to treat the land of the West Bank as part of Israel, it would necessarily follow that it would have to treat the people who live on that land as Israeli citizens, extending them full voting rights, just as it extends citizenship to people who live in Israel proper, regardless of ethnicity. So: The natural consequence of this notion, if it is carried through to law, would be to extend voting rights to the Palestinians of the West Bank. This would spell the end of Israel as a Jewish-majority democracy, but the right-wing in Israel seems more enamored of land-ownership than it does of such antiquated notions as, you know, Zionism.
Of course, you don’t hear too many voices on the right in Israel clamoring to extend full Israeli citizenship to the Palestinians. The right-wing wants the land, but not the people. What the right doesn’t understand is that this arrangement would be a non-starter, for political and moral reasons. Then again, the right doesn’t understand very much, so why would it understand this?
He is right that the Israeli far right “doesn’t understand very much,” at least in terms of acknowledging the presence of 2.4 million Palestinians in “Judea and Samaria.”
Sampling far right reactions to the report in Israel and the US, here are a few of the comments from Israel National News (Arutz Shiva):
It is now time (if not past time) for the Israeli government to fully annex Judea and Samaria as well as to assert full control over ALL JERUSALEM particularly Har Habayit. The Arab anti Semites now in control (and destroying Jewish artifacts) MUST BE THROWN OUT with ALL necessary force (at least as much as they now use on Jews who even appear to be silently praying at Judaism’s holiest site).
The tiny nation is only a small fraction of the size it will be some day soon. Almighty God has promised the Jews that Israel will stretch from the Nile River westward to the Euphrates River. Our God can NOT and will NOT ever break a promise!!!!!!!
Didn’t the San Remo Resolution of 1920 make it not only legal to settle but say that the International community is obliged to help the settling?
Comments at the article on the Levy Commission report on the Christian Broadcasting Network site proclaim:
God said “I will punish them that divide up my land”, this includes the USA. The land of Israel is the only land in the world given to a people directly by God. That is why Satan and his demons are fighting so hard to get it. It goes all the way back to the Creation. It is all so perfectly tied. God is so awesome in His Wisdom.
and – appropriately in hard caps:
ISRAEL, IF GOD CONDEMNS YOU THEN YOU SHOULD WORRY. YOU SHOULD WORRY IF YOU ARE ACTING AGAINST HIS ETERNAL WORD. US CONDEMNING YOU, THERE IS NO REASON TO WORRY. 500 YEARS AGO, THERE WAS NO US. ONLY THE LORD YOUR GOD, HIS WORD AND ISRAEL, HIS PEOPLE. STAND FIRM ISRAEL. THE LORD IS RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR PROTECTION, NOT THE US. YOU’RE ANSWERABLE AND RESPONSIBLE FIRST TO YOUR LORD GOD, HIS WORD AND SECOND, YOUR PEOPLE. THE OTHERS, COME LAST. BLESSING.
Meanwhile, back in the reality-based world, reactions vary. The Palestinian Authority views the report dimly:
Officials in Ramallah on Wednesday slammed the Netanyahu government’s plans to accept the conclusion of the Levy Commission report on Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria.
“We will not sign any peace agreement if there is a [single]settlement on Palestinian Land,” Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ spokesman Nabil Abu Rodier said.
The Levy report concluded Israel is not an occupying power in Judea and Samaria, and that Jewish communities in the region are therefore legal under international law.
“Israel has no right to be on Palestinian lands,”Rodier said, adding the PA rejected the Levy report in no uncertain terms.
The New York Times slammed the report in a Tuesday editorial:
[T]he commission’s recommendations are bad law, bad policy and bad politics. Most of the world views the West Bank, which was taken by Israel from Jordan in the 1967 war, as occupied territory and all Israeli construction there as a violation of international law. The world court ruled this way in 2004. The Fourth Geneva Convention bars occupying powers from settling their own populations in occupied lands. And United Nations Security Council resolution 242, a core of Middle East policy, calls for the “withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.”
The Times editorial notes further:
If [the Levi Commission report's] conclusions are not firmly rejected by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, there is likely to be new international anger at Israel. That could divert attention from Iran just when the world is bearing down with sanctions and negotiations to curb Tehran’s nuclear program. It would also draw attention to a dispiriting anomaly: that a state founded as a democratic homeland for the Jewish people is determined to continue ruling 2.5 million Palestinians under an unequal system of laws and rights.
On Wednesday’s Democracy Now, Jonathan Tobin, Senior Online Editor of Commentary magazine, and Ali Abunimah, co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, had a spirited debate on what the report represents, and could bring in its wake:
The issuance of this report will not serve to diminish Palestinian efforts to gain UN recognition, in spite of the report’s content’s seeming eradication of Palestine itself.
It will not deter the new United Nations Human Rights Commission team from gaining information for their report on ongoing human rights violations by Israelis against Palestinians in the West Bank.