The authors of a government-commissioned report that recommended legalizing outposts in the West Bank were handpicked to produce desired findings, Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom told participants at a recent closed Likud event in the West Bank settlement of Neve Binyamin.
Shalom was unknowingly taped last month speaking about the members of the controversial Levy Committee and their political bias, which suggests the report’s findings were predetermined. Walla news obtained the recording and published it on Monday.
The Levy report, written at the behest of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and named after the report’s author, retired Supreme Court justice Edmond Levy, was released in early July.
The report concludes that the establishment of settlements in the West Bank does not breach international law, and that Jews can legally make their homes there. It states that “Israel does not meet the criteria of ‘military occupation’ as defined under international law” in the West Bank, and therefore the settlements and outposts are legal, since there is no provision in international law prohibiting Jewish settlement in the area.
The report recommends easing regulations on Jewish settlement in the West Bank by regulating zoning and planning, halting scheduled demolitions and planning building in accordance with population growth.
The highly controversial report, which has already drawn sharp criticism by the international community and the Israeli left wing, has yet to be approved by the cabinet. Many in the international community consider all Israeli settlements beyond the Green Line illegal under international law.
“Do you think the prime minister didn’t know who Edmond Levy was when he appointed him?” Shalom asked the audience. “I will tell you: Edmond Levy was deputy mayor of Ramle on behalf of the Likud.”
Shalom went on to describe the two other committee members: Alan Baker (“legal adviser for the Foreign Ministry when I was the minister”) and the retired justice Tchiya Shapiro. “I was told she is the daughter of Rabbi Shlomo Goren. Do I not know who the daughter of Rabbi Goren is? It is clear this trio was not supposed to come up with a Sasson report.”
The findings of the Levy report were at odds with previous legal opinions, most notably the 2005 report by attorney Talia Sasson, compiled for prime minister Ariel Sharon, which found that some 120 West Bank outposts were illegal.
When the audience demanded to know why the report was not brought before the cabinet, Shalom said the sensitive issue is better deferred to the period after the elections.
“I believe the prime minister wants to proceed with the report’s recommendations — I feel it — but, of course, the Justice Ministry opposes it as a matter of principle,” Shalom said. “Today, it is impossible to raise the issue in the government with the coming election in view, but let’s give this government the power.”
Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely, who also attended the event, called the Levy report “one of the great achievements of the government. Let there be no mistakes… when Levy was appointed, we knew exactly what kind of report we’d get.”
Following the release of the recording, Shalom and Hotovely acknowledged their words, but denied what they said amounted to admitting the report was rigged.
Shalom’s press department said the facts put forth by the minister can be found on any search engine, and any attempt to present his speech as an admission of the report’s lack of objectivity would necessitate taking his words out of context.
Hotovely claimed her words represented praise for the report’s objectivity, as it wasn’t issued by members of the country’s “leftist elite,” as was the case with the Sasson report.
The revelation provoked immediate reactions from the left of the political map.
“Anyone with eyes in his head could see the conclusions of the committee are legally baseless and politically damaging,” said Meretz party chair Zahava Gal-on. “Should the conclusions be adopted, the ministers who appointed Levy will wind up in court in The Hague.”
“Shalom’s remarks show that the Levy Committee did not deserve to be seen as anything more than a Likud inner-faction committee,” read a statement by Peace Now. “The committee was rigged and its conclusions have no legal effect. It is the prime minister’s duty to shelve the committee’s conclusions and discard them into the dustbin of history. The mere existence of the committee damages Israel’s image in the world.”
Sources close to Edmond Levy dismissed the claims, saying he hasn’t been involved in politics for more than 40 years. Baker said on Tuesday that no one knew his political orientation, “not even my wife.”
Netanyahu’s office issued a response to the report on Tuesday, expressing the prime minister’s full support for the committee’s members. The statement said the members were all first rate professionals and had been vetted by the Attorney General prior to their appointment.
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