Committee Describes West Bank ‘Wonderland’
Denying the occupation is problematic for Israel (and its prime minister)
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.