The construction and establishment of Jewish settlements in the West Bank is legal under both Israeli and international law, as well as justified on historical and ethical grounds, according to a new document drafted by the Foreign Ministry.
The document, presented in a Channel 2 report Thursday, was issued under the directive of Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely and distributed to Israeli diplomats across the globe. It states that Israel has “valid property claims” to West Bank territory, as “Jewish affinity” with the region and in cities such as Hebron is thousands of years old.
According to the document, “These are not new communities, and not ‘colonization,'” and therefore, the “section of the Geneva Convention which prohibits the transfer of a population to occupied lands does not apply” in the case of the West Bank. “Never at any point of time in history were Jerusalem or the West Bank under Palestinian Arab sovereignty,” according to the document.
The document notes that Jewish communities beyond the Green Line “were established in a judicial proceeding under the supervision of [Israel’s] Supreme Court.” It further argues that Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005 was a “unilateral political decision,” and does not exhibit a “realization of any sort of legal obligation.”
However, the document does concede that Israel “recognizes that the Palestinians also have claims in the area,” and that for that reason, “the two parties expressed an explicit agreement to settle all outstanding disputes, including the future of the settlements, within the framework of direct bilateral negotiations.”
The document was drafted at Hotovely’s behest after she discovered that the Foreign Ministry’s directives on the country’s official stance on the West Bank had not been updated in 14 years, Channel 2 reported.
The Prime Minister’s Office would not comment on the new directive.
A majority of Western legal scholars outside of Israel view the establishment of West Bank settlements as illegal under international law, as the state has deliberately refrained from annexing most of the territory captured during the 1967 Six Day War, and has not granted Palestinians in the region Israeli citizen rights.
One result of Israel’s refusal to annex or leave the West Bank has been the creation of a territory trapped in a legal limbo under the officially temporary legal jurisdiction of the IDF’s Central Command. The military governor of the West Bank, who is also the IDF’s OC Central Command, is empowered to issue military directives related to civilian life in the area — including labor protections, regulation of commerce and the like.
Last month, Israeli officials confirmed that Foreign Ministry cadets would tour West Bank settlements and learn how to defend their legality, as well as hear lectures on Judaism and tour the City of David archaeological site in East Jerusalem. The new additions to the cadet course were made in a joint effort of Hotovely and Foreign Ministry director Dore Gold, a confidant of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Hotovely, a hawkish lawmaker in Likud, was recently reprimanded by Netanyahu for saying that she “dreams” of building the Third Temple at the Temple Mount.
Last year, the government reportedly decided to adopt certain recommendations of a report that asserts that Israel is not occupying the West Bank. The report, authored by the late Supreme Court justice Edmund Levy in 2012, two years before his death, concluded that the establishment of settlements in the West Bank does not breach international law, and that Jews can legally make their homes there. It also stated 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 Levy Report recommended 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 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.
JTA contributed to this report.