Defense Minister Ehud Barak says Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s apparent move to implement parts of a controversial report on the legal status of Israeli settlements in the West Bank would be a “grave mistake” on the part of Israel, and could cause the country significant damage in the international arena.
On Wednesday morning, Israel Radio reported that Netanyahu was seeking to implement sections of the Levy Report, which recommends the legalization of unauthorized Jewish settlements in the West Bank and declares Israel’s presence in the territory legal under international law.
Speaking to Israel Radio several hours later, Barak said some Likud ministers had expressed sympathy with his stance against the Levy report; however, he quoted them as saying, their need to pander to the more extremist elements in the party ahead of the impending elections would force them to back the initiative to legalize outposts.
The report on the settlements, written at Netanyahu’s behest and named for retired Supreme Court justice Edmund Levy, who led the three-person panel of experts that wrote it, was released in early July. It recommends easing restrictions on Jewish settlement in the West Bank by regulating zoning and planning, halting scheduled demolitions and planning building in accordance with population growth.
The report also concludes that the establishment of settlements in the West Bank does not breach international law, and that Jews can legally make their homes there, because “Israel does not meet the criteria of ‘military occupation’ as defined under international law.”
“A belligerent occupation is between two sovereigns,” panel member Alan Baker, a former Israeli Ambassador to Canada and a legal adviser to the Foreign Ministry, told The Times of Israel in a phone interview. “We could not accept the definition that this is a classic occupation. That is the novelty of this report.”
In the report, Levy, Baker and retired justice Techiya Shapira wrote that ever since the 1917 Balfour Declaration, no sovereign state had formally annexed the West Bank territory and that, consequently, the Geneva Convention was not applicable.
According to Wednesday’s report, Netanyahu and his staff have been preparing a draft resolution that would implement much of the Levy Report’s conclusions, while seeking to avoid the international and legal fallout of such a move.
When the report was first released, it was roundly condemned by the Israeli left, and rejected by international allies such as the US.
On Wednesday morning, opposition parliamentarians were quick to condemn the prime minister.
Labor Party leader Shelly Yachimovich termed the decision “a transparent election ploy,” while Shaul Mofaz, the leader of the opposition Kadima party, said he would contact Israel’s attorney-general and request that he look into the legality of the initiative.
Kadima MK Israel Hasson likened the proposal to “a flamethrower on a barrel of gasoline,” saying the Palestinians feel they have no political future and that the situation is very volatile. He said the government was attempting to prevent the future creation of a Palestinian state.
Coming out in defense of the initiative, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz of Netanyahu’s Likud party told Israel Radio that the prime minister did not intend to push for an extension of official Israeli sovereignty over West Bank settlements. Netanyahu’s purpose, he said, was merely to “settle some issues” and improve the daily lives of Jewish residents of the West Bank.