Retired Supreme Court Justice Edmond Levy, who heads a committee tasked with examining the legality of Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria, declared on Tuesday that Israelis have a legal right to settle the region.
"According to international law, Israelis have a legal right to settle all of Judea and Samaria, at the very least the lands that Israel controls under agreements with the Palestinian Authority," Levy stated. "Therefore, the establishment of Jewish settlements [in Judea and Samaria] is, in itself, not illegal."
The committee was established by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in efforts to determine and cement the legal status of the outposts in Judea and Samaria, with an emphasis on communities that were not built on privately owned Palestinian land but their status was still in doubt due to legal bureaucracy.
The committee issued its report on Tuesday, which was subsequently handed over to Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein. In the report, Levy wrote that "upon completing the committee's tasks, and considering the testimonies heard, the basic conclusion is that from an international law perspective, the laws of 'occupation' do not apply to the unique historic and legal circumstances surrounding Israel's decades-long presence in Judea and Samaria."
"Likewise," the report said, "the Fourth Geneva Convention [relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War] on the transfer of populations does not apply, and wasn't intended to apply to communities such as those established by Israel in Judea and Samaria."
In the part of the report that criticizes Israel's actions, the retired justice wrote that "dozens of new neighborhoods have been erected, without government authorization and at times without a contiguous link to the mother community. Several were built outside the legal jurisdiction allotted to the community. This prevalent phenomenon has required large amounts of funding therefore the committee finds it hard to believe that it was done without the government's knowledge."
In conclusion, the report stated that "we have discovered a phenomenon within the Israeli settlement enterprise in Judea and Samaria that does not befit a country that upholds the rule of law. From now on, it must be made very clear to the proponents of the settlement enterprise and to the political echelon that they are to operate only within the confines of the law, and the various law enforcement institutions must decisively enforce the law in the future."
The committee's recommendations include the following: The government must clarify its position on the issue of Israeli settlement in Judea and Samaria to prevent varying interpretations of its policy; a new community will only be built after the government or an authorized ministerial committee has approved it; the expansion of a community outside the bounds of its authorized jurisdiction must first be approved by the defense minister or a ministerial committee on settlements, in coordination with the prime minister.
On the other hand, the committee declared that the encouragement provided by the government to the settlement enterprise constituted authorization. According to the committee, communities that were built on land owned by the state, or privately owned Israeli land, with the help of government bodies could not be classified as "unauthorized" due to the absence of an official government decision to authorize them. The very assistance provided by the government in their establishment constitutes implicit authorization.
Under these circumstances, the report concluded, the evacuation of such communities would be impractical and another solution, such as compensation or land swap, should be implemented. Therefore, the committee recommends in its report, the government should avoid issuing demolition orders for these communities because it is the government itself that created this situation in the first place.
Another recommendation was that the government should speed up the examination of the communities whose status isn't defined. The committee suggested that the government define these disputed communities' status in terms of evacuations or demolitions only after a thorough investigation and a full legal proceeding. In order to ease the lives of the residents, the committee suggested the establishment of special courts in Judea and Samaria specifically to settle land disputes.
To prevent uncertainty and to promote stability, the committee encouraged Israelis and Palestinians to record their land purchases within an agreed upon time frame of between four and five years, after which anyone who did not complete the process would lose rights to property. The committee further proposed that Israelis would only be allowed to purchase land in Judea and Samaria under the auspices of an authorized body.