Posted by on July 16, 2012 in Blog

By Dan Korey

2012 Summer Intern

Last Monday the Levy Commission, a panel commissioned by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address the legal status of settlements and outposts in the West Bank, released its final report. Officially titled The Committee to Examine the State of Building in Judea and Samaria, the commission was headed by retired Israeli Supreme Court Justice Edmund Levy. The report concluded that Israel’s presence in the West Bank does not constitute occupation, and therefore all settlements and outposts are legal under international law.

These findings, which contradict the advisory opinion of the International Criminal Court, the United Nations, and a myriad of peace treaties and resolutions over the past several decades, also contained numerous recommendations to the Israeli government, namely legalizing all unauthorized settlements and outposts and allowing Israeli settlers to register land ownership in the West Bank. The commission believes that outposts should be legalized because the Israeli government provided encouragement and tacit approval for them. In cases where settlers built outposts on private Palestinian land, the report suggests that Israel should create a separate judicial tribunal to investigate claims to the land. At this point, the report findings are only recommendations for the Israeli government and must first be examined and approved by Israeli Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein before it is vetted and voted on in the cabinet to become law.

The report bolsters the settlers’ claims to the land in the West Bank, and many of their supporters in the government praised the findings. Prominent Likud Knesset Member Danny Danon said, “The report will remove any leftist radicalism from previous court ruling on the outposts and bury once and for all the alarming report previously submitted by attorney Talia Sasson.” In 2005, The Talia Sasson report, which was commissioned by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, found that the Israeli government had funded the building of settlements and outposts in the West Bank that were illegal under Israeli law, calling for legal actions against certain Israeli officials, the evacuation of the settlements and an end to their construction, at the behest of Sharon. While the government voted to accept the report's recommendations, there was no set timetable for evacuations and construction continued at a faster rate, often at odds with Israeli courts. The most recent example of this tension was the court-ordered evacuation of Ulpana a few weeks ago, in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu followed the court ruling, but vowed to physically relocate the settlers’ home and build 850 new settlements in compensation.

Many speculate that the committee, whose members were handpicked because they were believed to reject the current legal status of settlements, was established for the sole purpose of rejecting the Sasson report, which provided a roadblock to the Israeli right. Legal advisor to Yesh Din Michael Sfard released a statement stating, “The Levy Committee was conceived in sin to legalize a crime, and it has fully accomplished its mission. Its report is not a legal report but an ideological report that ignores the basic principles of the rule of law.”

The report has been strongly rejected and criticized by many prominent figures and groups in both Washington D.C. and Jerusalem. The United States government says it has not changed its position on the issue of settlements. A State Department spokesman told reporters, “Obviously, we’ve seen the reports that an Israeli government appointed panel has recommended legalizing dozens of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, but we do not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity, and we oppose any effort to legalize settlement outposts.” This response uses the standard verbiage that has become commonplace in recent years. Several of the statements made by the President Barack Obama’s administration since 2009 involve the illegitimacy of the settlement enterprise but avoid deeming them illegal. The State Department states that the outposts are illegal, but that view is in agreement with current Israeli law. A group of more than 40 prominent U.S. Jewish leaders and philanthropists, including Michael Berenbaum, former Project Director of the US Holocaust Museum, and Thomas A. Dine, Former Executive Director of AIPAC, have also condemned the report, expressing deep concern for the impact of the recommendations on the two-state solution.

If Attorney General Weinstein does accept the findings, Jerusalem Post writer Jonathan Rosen cautions Netanyahu from making the recommendations law. “To endorse the Levy report is to unmask the ongoing fraud by the Israeli government; it is to admit openly that the government has lent its tacit support to the establishment of the outposts and, as such, to the ongoing settlement of the West Bank, despite promises to the contrary.” Israeli President Shimon Peres also addressed the report on Tuesday during a speech at the annual ceremony in memory of Zionism founder Theodor Herzl, stating that building settlements on Arab land is a threat to Israel in the long term.

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