The settlers and their supporters erupted in jubilation Monday after a committee
headed by retired Supreme Court Justice Edmond Levy presented its report on the
issue of settlements and outposts in the West Bank.
Likud MK Danny Danon
was quoted on Tuesday by Ma’ariv as describing the publication of the report a
“day of celebration for settlement.”
The pro-settler crowd appeared to be
especially pleased by two particular elements in the report. The first is the
general assertion that the territories that Israel conquered from Jordan in 1967
are not legally under “occupation.” As a consequence, the committee stipulated
that the Fourth Geneva Convention banning the settlement of citizens from the
occupying country in the occupied territories does not apply to the Israeli
settlement enterprise in the West Bank.
The second issue that seemed to
warm the hearts of the settler supporters was the committee’s refusal to allow
the government to disavow its responsibility for the settlement outposts. The
Levy Committee found that the government had lent its ongoing tacit support to
the establishment of the outposts, and could not hide behind the absence of
The committee went on to recommend legalizing
retroactively all of outposts that were not situated on privately-owned property,
and allowing them to grow and flourish, like other settlements.
enthusiastic response by the prosettler crowd was particularly surprising – a
front page commentary in Makor Rishon called it nothing short of a “watershed
moment”– given the lack of novelty in the ideas put forward by the
After all, the arguments in support of the settlement enterprise
as a whole and the settlement outposts in particular are anything but new. They
have been espoused for years by the settlers and their supporters, including
prominent members of the Netanyahu government in the recent past. Just a few
months ago Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon posted on YouTube a clip
reviewing the history of the Israeli-Arab conflict that presented the very same
“there is no occupation” theory put forward by the Levy Committee.
June cabinet ministers from the Likud cited arguments that were identical to the
ones put forward by the Levy Committee about long-standing and ongoing tacit
support the government had given the various outposts as justification for a
bill to legalize the outposts retroactively.
So if the report contains
nothing new and reflects positions that are prevalent among the cabinet
ministers in any event, why is the right wing celebrating? MOST IMMEDIATELY, the
pro-settler sector was pleased because the Levy report served to undercut the
Sasson report, which had branded the dozens of outposts that were set up without
formal government authorization illegal and had called for them to be removed.
But since the Sasson report in any event had not had any practical impact on the
ground – there was no mass removal of the outposts in its wake – that
questionable moral victory can’t quite explain the excitement elicited by the
It seems the real hope of the pro-settler bloc is that the
Levy report will now become official government policy. The hope is that after
receiving support from the unimpeachable legal minds who sat on the Levy
Committee, the government will feel free to pursue its ideology of settling the
West Bank openly.
Sentiments along those lines were voiced this week by
Likud MKs and ministers, including Yisrael Katz, who was quoted by Ma’ariv this
on Tuesday as calling on the government to “endorse the report so as to remove
obstacles and to allow continued activity for the sake of the development,
strengthening and entrenchment of the settlements in Judea and
A development of that kind, however, is highly
Prime Minister Netanyahu shot down the bill that was geared to
legalize outposts in June not on ideological grounds but in fear of the
international political repercussions that such legislation was liable to
The international community uniformly considers all Israeli
settlement in the West Bank to be illegal. It does not accept the Israeli
argument that the status of the West Bank is disputed; rather, it holds the West
Bank to be unequivocally under Israeli occupation. Even Israel’s staunchest
friends refuse to accept the legality of its settlement of the West Bank.
Needless to say, the Levy Committee report is not going to change
Ever since the signing of the Oslo Accords, all the Israeli
governments have undertaken before the international community not to build new
settlements on the West Bank. In order to placate the settlers, the Sharon
government invented the outpost system, which allowed settlers to expand to
dozens of new points across the West Bank, while formally distancing the
government from that settlement activity and absolving it of any legal
The government was able to tell the international
community, “we didn’t sanction the establishment of those renegade outposts, and
we undertake to remove them.”
On paper, the Israeli government had to
maintain the façade, as if the outposts had been established in defiance of its
own policy, in order to maintain ongoing working relations with the
international community, which, in turn, was prepared to accept the mendacious
assertion so as not to make any unnecessary waves.
But legalizing the
outposts would put an end to that façade and would be a slap in the face of the
international community, including Israel’s friends and allies, producing dire
That is why Netanyahu shot down the legalization
bill last month, and that is why he will almost certainly not endorse the Levy
To endorse the Levy report is to unmask the ongoing fraud by the
Israeli government; it is to admit openly that the government has lent its tacit
support to the establishment of the outposts and, as such, to the ongoing
settlement of the West Bank, despite promises to the contrary.
to do so would be politically suicidal for Netanyahu.
The author is a
veteran Israeli writer and translator.