Panel tells Netanyahu West Bank not occupied land so all settlements are legal
By Jeffrey Heller, Reuters/Ma’an
July 09, 2012
JERUSALEM — A government-appointed committee proposed on Monday granting official status to dozens of unauthorized settler outposts in the West Bank and challenged the world view that Israeli settlement there is illegal.
The non-binding legal opinion, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had sought, could be used by the right-wing leader to address criticism at home and abroad of his declared plans to build more homes for Jews on occupied Palestinian land.
Three months ago, his governing coalition drew Palestinian and international condemnation when it retroactively gave Israeli legal sanction three West Bank outposts built without official approval.
But the panel, chaired by a former Israeli Supreme Court justice who has written pro-settlement opinions from the bench, reaffirmed Israel’s long-held stance that the West Bank is not occupied territory and settling Jews there is legal.
The opinion, yet to be formally accepted by the government, flew in the face of the World Court ruling that all settlements are illegal because of their location on occupied land.
The Israeli committee disputed that ruling and international consensus, arguing Israel’s control of the West Bank does not constitute occupation as no country was sovereign over the territory when it was captured from Jordan in a 1967 war.
“Therefore, according to international law, Israelis have the legal right to settle in Judea and Samaria and the establishment of settlements cannot, in and of itself, be considered to be illegal,” it said, using the Biblical names for the West Bank.
Israel has built some 120 settlements in the West Bank. The settlements eat into Palestinian communities, and officials say their continual expansion is ending the possibility of a contiguous independent Palestine.
“All settlements are illegal according to international law and international resolutions,” Nabil Abu Rdeineh, a spokesman for President Mahmoud Abbas, said of the committee’s report.
“The Israeli government must cease settlement activity and curb settler attacks and adhere to international resolutions if it wants to achieve peace,” Abu Rdeineh added.
Dozens of officially unauthorized outposts, which past Israeli governments had pledged to remove, have also gone up in the territory.
Addressing the issue of unsanctioned settlement outposts, the committee echoed a 2005 government report in determining they had been established “with the knowledge, encouragement and tacit agreement of the most senior political level.”
But unlike the 2005 document, which said quiet government support and funding for unauthorized settlements were illegal, the new report recommended expanding them.
The time had come, it said, to complete formal “planning and zoning procedures” and set the “municipal jurisdiction” of each outpost, taking into consideration their growing populations.
“Pending completion of those proceedings and examination of the possibility of granting valid building permits, the state is advised to avoid carrying out demolition orders,” the panel said.
Yariv Oppenheimer of the anti-settlement group Peace Now said the panel had “delivered the goods” for the Israeli right.
“The legal world is a wonderful one, just choose a position and you will always be able to find a legal expert who can defend it,” he said on Army Radio. “The committee has forgotten that there are 2.5 million stateless Palestinians under Israeli military rule.”
Right welcomes report saying State must legalize all West Bank settlements, illegal outposts. ‘Gov’t must treat these finding as its new creed,’ ministers say
Attila Somfalvi, Ynet news
July 09, 2012
Will the Levy Report bring about a fundamental change in the government’s settlement policy? Many in the Right urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to adopt the report’s recommendation on legalizing illegal West Bank outposts without haste but a top legalist warned of the international ramifications.
The committee, headed by Supreme Court Justice (Ret.) Edmond Levy, submitted its report in June, but its official findings were only made public on Monday.
The panel ruled that the State must devise ways to legalize contested settlement and outposts in the West Bank and ease land acquisition and zoning protocols for Jews residing in the area.
The committee’s findings stand to significantly change the legal reality in the West Bank, especially when compared to the 2005 Sasson Report on construction in the West Bank, which deemed 120 outposts as illegal.
“I was very surprised,” Attorney Talia Sasson, who penned the 2005 report, told Ynet. “How can this report, which is supposed to reflect the current situation, fail to represent the situation that has been upheld by the High Court of Justice for the past 45 years?”
The report further states that fostering Israeli settlement in the West Bank is not in violation of international law, but according to Sasson, “In 2005, the ICC ruled that all Israeli settlements in the area were illegal.
“This isn’t a question of politics. This was a court ruling and the report should have reflected that, regardless of who is heading the committee or what the panel’s political views are,” she said.
While Netanyahu is likely to ask the Ministerial Committee on Settlements to review the committee’s recommendations prior to any decision on the matter, many in the government, however, welcomed the report’s findings.
Committee member and Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan urged Netanyahu to call an urgent session of the Settlements Committee in order to “formulate a policy that will remove the uncertainty which is clouding the lives of thousands of families.”
Erdan pledged to push for findings’ implementation as soon as possible.
Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz echoed the sentiment, saying that the Levy Report “seek to see historical justice served for thousands of families in Judea and Samaria, who have been wronged for years.
Habayit Hayehudi Chairman Rabbi Prof. Daniel Hershkowitz, who is also a member for the Settlement Committee said that the government should “treat the Levy Report as its new creed and not deviate from it one iota.
“The Sasson Report was very political – as far as she was concerned thriving communities built with the State’s sponsorship were illegal outposts. The Zionist Movement is about building – not tearing down.”
MK Uri Ariel (National Union) called the Levy Report “One of the most worthy and just reports ever penned… It aims to right the historical wrong introduced by the Sasson Report.
“This is a test for Netanyahu – he has to approve this report in the next committee and cabinet meetings.”
Itamar Fleishman contributed to the report