So everyone is happy. Or not.

Two major news stories last week confirmed what I have suspected for a long time: People don’t change their minds; they interpret the facts to reinforce their existing opinions.

The first example was the publication of the so-called Outposts’ Report by the committee headed by Justice Edmond Levy, and the phenomenon was even more noticeable midweek with the announcement of the verdict in the corruption cases faced by former prime minister Ehud Olmert.

The Commission to Examine the Status of Building in Judea and Samaria, as it is officially known, determined that “Israelis have the legal right to settle in Judea and Samaria and the establishment of settlements cannot, in and of itself, be considered illegal.”

I could have predicted ahead of the report’s publication who would object to its findings: Basically anybody who has a hard time even calling the land in that area by its biblical names was programmed to react by slamming it – whatever it said.

The report starts out by stating that the classic laws of occupation “cannot be considered applicable to the unique and sui generis historic and legal circumstances of Israel’s presence in Judea and Samaria spanning over decades.”

In other (simpler) words: The area is literally one of a kind. A Jerusalem Post editorial on July 10 explained that “it enjoys a unique status in international law as land that has never been unequivocally set aside for a specific people by the international community” – although I’m not sure that the word “enjoys” is the best one given all its connotations.

In the last page of their conclusions, however, the three committee members – former Supreme Court justice Levy, former Foreign Ministry legal adviser Alan Baker and former deputy president of the Tel Aviv District Court Tehiya Shapira – wrote: “We wish to stress that the picture that has been displayed before us regarding Israeli settlement activity in Judea and Samaria does not befit the behavior of a state that prides itself on, and is committed to, the rule of law.”

Israel is no longer in a formative state, and construction must take place in accordance with legal rules and procedures, the report added, and included a series of recommendations to retroactively legalize construction and stop any further unauthorized building.

The report’s importance lies not only in its interpretation of the facts, but because it directly contradicts the findings of its predecessor – the so-called Talia Sasson Report. Sasson, a former senior prosecutor, published her conclusions at Ariel Sharon’s behest in 2005, shortly before announcing she would be running for the Knesset with the staunchly anti-settlements Meretz party.

It only goes to show that there’s more than one way of seeing any situation, and we will inevitably go with the one that makes us feel more comfortable.

There are kneejerk reactions and there are the just-jerks’ reactions.

The same people who praised Sasson’s report and promoted hers as the only worthy conclusions – “in the name of the law” – are those who have now turned jurist Levy into Public Enemy No. 1.

A US State Department spokesman also rejected the panel’s conclusions saying: “The US position on settlements is clear. 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.”

Whether this includes such parts of Jerusalem as the Hebrew University’s Mount Scopus campus (whose cornerstone was laid in 1918, not long after Britain wrested it from Ottoman control), I’m afraid to ask.

There are certain settlements/towns/communities whose future should not feature even as the tiny dot of a question mark: Ma’aleh Adumim, Ariel and the Gush Etzion communities, for example.

(Residents of Gush Etzion, in particular, can tell you a thing or two about the changing presence, fortunes and misfortunes of the Judean hills).

I don’t have a problem with these places growing just as – dare I say it – I don’t have a problem with Ramallah developing. Having thriving communities, be they Israeli or Palestinian, seems to be a lot better than the alternative.

On the same day that Levy handed his report to the prime minister, there were rocket and sniper attacks on Jewish communities along the Gazan border, which shows that, for some, “the settlements” obviously means any place where Jews reside, and legal niceties be damned, along with the residents.

Reactions to the Outpost Report go to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that we are all guilty of seeing the world through our own perspective.

What scares me is what happens when we no longer want to even listen to the other point of view.

THE SECOND experience of kneejerk reaction came when three judges declared the verdict in the three cases against Olmert. His supporters, conveniently ignoring the fact that Olmert was, in fact, found guilty of the not insignificant clause of breach of trust in the Investment Center Affair, hailed the results as a victory and immediately accused State Attorney Moshe Lador of a witch-hunt.

Olmert’s detractors, on the other hand, noted that the ongoing Holyland trial still casts a shadow, much as the housing complex seems to stand out in all its ugliness wherever you look in the capital. They also questioned whether Olmert’s aide Shula Zaken, who was found guilty on most charges, had not taken the rap for him.

The most chilling comment came from Ma’ariv’s former editor Amnon Dankner, who boldly stated: “Some say Moshe Lador should consider resigning, but I think he should commit suicide.”

Dankner perversely not only urged a high-ranking official to kill himself, hopefully in an attempt to sound witty, but also turned the state attorney into the criminal, rather than the former prime minister who had just been found guilty in court.

Had such a remark been made by a right-wing activist (or “settler”) against any senior member of the the judicial system, the Left would be clamoring for charges of incitement.

I heard another, no less frightening, response from two of my neighbors – sweet-looking old ladies – as they waited at the bus stop the morning after the trial.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if the judges were bribed,” announced one, to the agreement of the other.

While it worries me that anyone truly believes Lador decided to press charges as an alternative to removing the prime minister from office through democratically held elections, I find it no less disconcerting that members of the public have so little faith left in the country’s legal system.

If the state is deterred from pressing charges – leaving it up to the courts to determine innocence or guilt – then the system of justice will be meaningless.

If every case brought before the judge is predetermined, there is no point in holding a trial.

Heaven help us if the state attorney has committed professional suicide.

It would mean the death of democracy.

The writer is editor of The International Jerusalem Post. liat@jpost.com

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