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Committee Describes West Bank ‘Wonderland’

Denying the occupation is problematic for Israel (and its prime minister)

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A Palestinian protest Saturday near Nablus, in the West Bank.(Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP/GettyImages)

As Prime Minister Netanyahu deals with demands for a national service law, here’s another thing coming up on his right flank: the new report declaring that Israel isn’t occupying the West Bank, legally speaking, but rather, y’know, settling the land Arthur Balfour sorta, basically promised them in 1917. It’s a pretty radical document, which essentially argues that the period between 1948 and 1967 involved no settlements in Judea and Samaria because of “war” (actually it’s because those lands, as well as East Jerusalem, were parts of Jordan, another sovereign state) and suggests re-starting the Ottoman-era system whereby land is registered to private owners, which Israel suspended after the Six Day War out of respect to Palestinian owners of the land.

So Bibi faces another problem. His attorney general won’t approve the report, and Bibi can’t endorse it fully, lest he discredit himself internationally—by the way, this is another reason why it’s regrettable that so many countries around the world seek to delegitimize Israel’s mere existence: it gives Israeli leaders little incentive to abide by international norms—and, more important, provoking the Third Intifada. But if he rejects it entirely, he faces the prospect of a Likud backbench revolt. No wonder, as Haaretz‘ Barak Ravid scoops, Netanyahu kept the report in a drawer for more than two weeks. He wants it to go away, or at least not to be associated with his name. The problem is, he appointed the committee in the first place.

There’s also the small matter, as Jeff Goldberg notes, that ceasing to treat the occupation as an occupation would mean either extending voting rights to all Palestinians living in those territories, which would in turn lead to Greater Palestine, or alternatively birthing a system in which their rights were still denied but they were no longer under a military occupation, which would be, yes, apartheid.

When I contacted Michael Sfard, an Israeli lawyer who frequently represents Palestinian landowners in claims against settlers, he referred me to a statement, which, describing the committee as inhabiting a “Wonderland,” reads in part:

According to law, the Government of Israel expresses its consent to establish settlements solely by explicit decisions of its plenum or by a committee it authorizes to do so. The Levy Committee’s suggestion to view illegal statements or actions by various ministers as government consent undermines the principles of the rule of law and good governance. … Adoption of the committee’s recommendations would lead to widespread land theft and complicate Israel’s relations with the rest of the world. The committee’s recommendations are a targeted assassination of the rule of law and, consequently, of the protection of the rights of Palestinians in the occupied territories.

Netanyahu-Appointed Panel: Israel Isn’t an Occupying Force in the West Bank [Haaretz]
Earlier: Israelis March En Masse For Fairer Draft Law

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Whether or not you believe the land should be part of Israel, it was never recognized as “parts of Jordan, another sovereign state”. When Jordan was created out of the British Mandate of Palestine (as Transjordan) its western border was the Jordan River. Jordan’s annexation of the West Bank in 1950 was recognized only by Britain. Even the Arab League said it was illegal. Jordan was the “occupier” from 1948 to 1967.

    Binyamin says:

    That’s beside the point, Ed. Whatever Jordan did, and the Arab League said, is irrelevant to the question of whether Israel is occupying the West Bank. And more to the point is whether the occupation is good or bad for the Jews, regardless of what international law says.

PhillipNagle says:

The legal question favors Israel. While Ed points out quite correctly that with the exception of the UK, everyone regarded Jordan’s annexation of Judea and Samaria as illegal. Futhermore, until the Oslo accords (and perhaps even afterward, the arabs use a lot of double talk), the arabs, with the exception of Jordan, regarded the old British mandate of Palestine as a single unit. It is still portrayed that way in most arab maps. When someone from the west talks about occupied lands, they mean Judea and Samaria. When an arab talks about occupied lands he is likely to mean all of Israel. The truth is, there was no border seperating Israel from Judea and Samaria for 20 years, only a temporary ceae fire line. Jews have just as much a right to settle in Judea and Samaria as arabs.

    abash40 says:

    And that is certainly in accoRd with what LBJ’s diplomats,theRostow bros maintained. The territories occupied by Jordan and Egypt priortothe6 Day War became disputed territory. Jews can settle inJude nd Samaria – as canPalestinians.

David Cohen says:

Marc, Marc, Marc, just when I give you props for an incredibly balanced piece on the NY Ads distorting the history / but not really going there toward any anti-Semitism – you go and use your headline to distort the report and point. I don’t love the report. I also don’t really love the way some (I said some) of the left leaning groups have responded. Like Jeremy Ben Ami who went too far with his quoting of US stated policy on the West Bank in general rather than keeping things focused on settlement expansion. You also could have kept the focus on the way in which the committee goes too far even though they make some valid points about the land being disputed (and by no means a settled issue in international law – if that really even exists – lawyers will know what I mean). But no. You had to get cute with the title and photo to 1) imply one of the ways the committee erred was by calling the West Bank a “wonderland” which paints them as even more condescending and shortsighted (aka right wing) than they are. And 2) by being yet another one of those news outlets who places a photo of a protest being broken up as representative of the whole of what exists daily in the West bank – you lost all your brownie points for the goof piece on the NY ads. Come on man? Were you just trying to match a photo with the distorted headline? Then you blew it double time! There were so many ways to critique that report without attributing something to them that they did not say? And now they get to say the press distorts they position – which you did. So for all those moderates trying to hold the center, thanks for that!

herbcaen says:

How is the situation of Palestinians living in Judea and Samaria different from Mexican citizens living in Los Angeles? Just because large numbers of Mexicans live legally and illegally in Los Angeles mean that the US must extend the vote to them. Mike Sfard is an advocate of replacing Israel with a Palestinian state from the river to the sea. By using him as your standard, one can assume that Mark Tracy also promotes the replacement of Israel by Hamastan


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Committee Describes West Bank ‘Wonderland’

Denying the occupation is problematic for Israel (and its prime minister)

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