Ministers and politicians on the right have asked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to adopt the findings of a committee which concluded that Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria are not illegal under international law, since there was no official Palestinian entity in the territory before 1948.
As first reported by Israel Hayom last Tuesday, Retired Supreme Court Justice Edmond Levy, who headed a committee tasked with examining the legality of Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria, declared last Tuesday that Israelis have a legal right to settle the area.
"According to international law, Israelis have a legal right to settle all of Judea and Samaria, or 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 an effort 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, whose status was still in doubt due to legal bureaucracy.
According to Levy, the report's 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."
Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud) welcomed Levy's findings, and said that he plans to ask the prime minister to convene the Ministerial Committee on Settlement Construction to discuss the report and devise a policy that would reflect its findings, Israel Radio reported.
"The report rectifies an unjust situation – both historically and legally – that was perpetuated by the skewed political views that governed Sasson's outpost report," Erdan told the radio station.
Upon its establishment in February, the committee headed by Levi was charged with reviewing a 2005 government report by former State Prosecutor's Office official Talia Sasson, which found that several dozen outposts had been built not only without state approval but on privately held Palestinian land. Officials said at the time that the report needed to be reviewed because Sasson, who later entered politics on the left-wing Meretz party list, may not have been entirely objective.
Head of the Yesha council [the council of the Jewish communities of Judea, Samaria and until 2005 in the Gaza Strip] Danny Dayan told Israel Radio that Levy's report reflects a "thorough, exhaustive and serious legal document that stands in stark contrast to the report compiled by Talya Sasson in 2005; His recommendations should be read thoroughly and implemented in an orderly fashion."
Sasson dismissed Levy's assertion Monday, telling Israel Radio that the Israeli High Court of Justice is the only body vested with the authority to rule on the legal status of Judea and Samaria and that Levy's report ignores the court's ruling that declared some of the outposts illegal.
Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz (New National Religious Party) echoed Erdan's request to convene the ministerial forum and said he would like to see the report adopted without delay. He said that Sasson's report was political and that the new report should be treated as a binding document.
The committee's recommendations include the following: The government must clarify its position on the issue of Israeli settlements 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.
Reacting to the report, the Association of Civil Rights in Israel said Monday that Levy's conclusions were "unfounded and baseless in international law, and their aim is to legitimize and deepen the injustice perpetrated by successive Israeli governments in the Territories over the past 45 years. The settlement enterprise has created a wrongful situation in which the human rights of the Palestinians are totally subsumed in favor of the interests of settlers."
"No committee has the ability to change international law, whose main tenet is defense of human rights," ACRI said in a statement. "Since 1967, successive Israeli governments have held fast to the clear position that the Territories are held in belligerent occupation, that is, military occupation, and are thus not part of the State of Israel. In this matter there is complete agreement between the State of Israel and the international community. Reneging on this position, by a committee appointed by the prime minister, is scandalous," ACRI added.
Alan Baker, who served in the past as the chief legal counsel to the Foreign Ministry and sat on the committee, dismissed the allegations that Levy's report is politically biased, telling Israel Radio that the committee members took into account international law, Jordanian law (which is still partially enforced in Judea and Samaria owing to Jordan's almost 20-year rule) and Israeli law.
Baker said there are no grounds to the claim that settlement construction in Judea and Samaria is illegal, so long as it is not carried out on Palestinian land without authorization and that the necessary construction permits are issued. Baker believes the lack of clarity over property rights in Judea and Samaria and related petitions by alleged landowners prompted the government to commission the report. He said that demolition of structures in those areas should be subject to legal review to avoid a situation in which a "Civil Administration official or clerk decides to do so."
The Legal Forum for the Land of Israel, a group of activists and jurists, said of the report that "The Levy Committee frees the country from the horror show that was produced by jurists who had abused the interpretation of international law and tailored it to their political views. This was the first such instance where a serious committee headed by a [former] Supreme Court justice engages in a brainstorming session and issues a meaningful report that applies the proper interpretation to the law and points to the distortions created by the justice system. We implore the prime minister to embrace the report and have it serve as a guiding principle in government policymaking."