Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may be attempting to distance himself from a report calling on the government to retroactively approve several illegal West Bank outposts and ease restrictions on settlement building.
Netanyahu convened the Ministerial Committee for Settlement Affairs Tuesday to discuss various issues relating to outposts, but refused to discuss the so-called Levy Report when Ministers Daniel Hershkowitz and Gilad Erdan brought it up, Haaretz reported on Wednesday.
Put together by the Cabinet at the behest of Netanyahu in January, and headed by pro-settlement former Supreme Court justice Edmond Levy, the committee was tasked with examining “steps to be taken to regularize construction” in the settlements and recommending an appropriating process to “clarify land issues” in the West Bank. Its 89-page report was released to the government on June 21 and publicized July 9.
Since its release, the controversial report has garnered wide support in the right wing, but has been lambasted by liberals and the international community.
Netanyahu said he would convene the ministerial committee over the next several months to discuss how to proceed with the report, which he called “serious.”
Levy wrote that the settlement enterprise was created at the behest of the State of Israel, but criticized the lack of clear policy vis-a-vis construction and regulation.
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.
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 committee’s findings also assert that the Fourth Geneva Convention does not apply to the West Bank because it is not actually occupied territory. Those are the findings that Netanyahu reportedly fears would cause international outcry, because although Israel has not admitted that the convention applies to the West Bank it has informally pledged to honor its humanitarian provisions.
The findings of the Levy report are 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.
Sasson came out strongly against the findings of the Levy report upon its publication, saying that the report has no legal standing and ignores four decades of court rulings on the legality of unauthorized settlement in the West Bank.
In mid-July, The New York Times warned in an editorial that “although nonbinding, the commission’s recommendations are bad law, bad policy and bad politics,” and called upon Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “firmly reject” the findings.
It further stated that the acceptance of the Levy findings would cause international attention to shift away from Iran’s nuclear program at a crucial time.
The US State Department also stated its discontent with the report. “The US position on settlements is clear,” State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said the day after its publication. “Obviously, we’ve seen the reports that an Israeli government-appointed panel has recommended legalizing dozens of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, but we do not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity, and we oppose any effort to legalize settlement outposts.”
Yesh Din, a human-rights group that monitors the West Bank, said the Levy report was “born in sin” as an ideological platform instead of an unbiased legal opinion and asserted that the findings of the report are contrary to Israeli and international law.
Gabe Fisher contributed to this report.