JERSUSALEM – Israeli Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan this week questioned why Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has remained mum on the findings of a recently concluded legal commission that concluded Jews do have a legal right to build and live in Judea and Samaria (the so-called “West Bank”).
“After years in which, unfortunately, a question mark hovered over the question of the right of the state of Israel to settle in Judea and Samaria, a panel of senior jurists…determined that Israelis have a legal right to settle [there],” Erdan was quoted as saying by Israel National News. “Let us not leave this report in the desk drawer.”
Erdan was referring to the Levy Committee that Netanyahu himself established to look into the legality of Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria under international law.
The committee was comprised of three senior Israeli jurists, including an international law expert who was party to the formulation of the “Oslo Accords.”
The committee made public its findings early last month, noting that the standard accusation that Israel is militarily occupying Judea and Samaria is inaccurate under international law.
“Our basic conclusion is that from the point of view of international law, the classical laws of ‘occupation’ as set out in the relevant international conventions cannot be considered applicable to the unique and sui generis historic and legal circumstances of Israel’s presence in Judea and Samaria, over the course of decades,” the judges wrote.
In other words, the Geneva Conventions define “military occupation” as the seizing of another nation’s land, and the fact is that no nation legally controlled Judea and Samaria following the fall of the Ottoman Empire, which itself had ruled the area for over five centuries.
Additionally, the Jews cannot be considered an outside force in Judea and Samaria, but rather the historic founders of the territory as a unified nation-state. Jewish archeological finds dating back millennia abound in the “West Bank.”
The committee based its findings on “international, Jordanian, Israeli and even Ottoman laws,” all of which led to one inescapable truth: “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.”
The issue of private Arab land being taken for Jewish construction is another matter, but judges did point out that the vast majority of Jewish settlement construction is on state-owned land or land legally purchased by Jewish individuals and organizations.
So why is Netanyahu sitting on this report rather than presenting it to his cabinet for discussion and adoption?
The prime minister himself is keeping a tight lip on the subject, but most commentators assume the reason is because of the Obama White House’s deep displeasure with the Levy Committee.
“We do not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity and we oppose any effort to legalize settlement outposts,” US State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters after the committee’s findings were published. Ventrell said the White House was “concerned” that Netanyahu had even established such a committee.