As yet we do not know whether prior to the general elections Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will actually bring to the cabinet for approval parts of the report former Supreme Court justice Edmond Levy submitted to him concerning the legalization of the allegedly illegal outposts in Judea and Samaria.

When the report was first published in the beginning of July, Netanyahu thanked Levy politely for his efforts, but decided to shelve the report, since it concluded that Judea and Samaria are not occupied territories – a premise that no one outside of Israel accepts, and which most Israeli international law experts also reject.

One might assume that deep in his heart, Netanyahu wishes this were not the case, but he is realistic enough to understand that adopting the Levy report, lock stock and barrel, would simply complicate Israel’s already complicated international situation. Furthermore, Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein is reported to have professional reservations regarding the report.

So why is Netanyahu suddenly so eager to bring parts of the report for the approval of the cabinet? Very simply, because he is under great pressure from the powerful settlers’ bloc in the Likud to do something on this issue, and he is worried that he might pay a high political price if he does nothing.

The problem is that we are formally in a pre-elections period, and Netanyahu has been told by the attorney-general that this is not an issue on which such decisions should be taken on the eve of elections. Netanyahu is undoubtedly displeased with this argument, which if accepted by him could weaken his position in the Likud and cost him votes.

What perplexed me most about Netanyahu’s current media campaign on this issue, which is being delivered by some of his more respected ministers, is that all of them bring as their main argument the urgent need to normalize the lives of the settlers.

THERE IS just one problem with this argument, which is that when the settlers decided to settle on lands whose legal status is unclear, they opted for an abnormal existence. Hopefully, some day the legal status of Judea and Samaria will be settled, and if Israel plays its cards right it might even manage to ensure that the most important blocs of settlements will become part of the sovereign territory of Israel. But this is not something Israel can do unilaterally, and trying to act unilaterally will not normalize the lives of the settlers, but rather increase the abnormality of Israel’s international status.

What is most annoying is that none of the official spokesmen are willing to relate to the extreme abnormality of the lives of the Palestinians – and anyone believing one can normalize the lives of the Jewish Israelis, inside and outside the Green Line, without normalizing those of the Israeli and non-Israeli Palestinians must be living in la la land.

Add to this the fact that apparently Jews are already a minority in Eretz Yisrael west of the River Jordan (according to the Israeli tax authorities, the total population of Israel and the territories – not including foreign workers and refugees – is 12 million, while according to the figures of the Central Bureau of Statistics the number of Jews in Israel is 5.9 million), and one cannot help wondering whether Netanyahu and his ministers have any clear idea where they are leading us, beyond the January elections.

I was especially perplexed by something Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar said during an interview on the subject on TV Channel 1. Sa’ar contended that the 1920 San Remo Conference, convened after the First World War to deal with the future of the former Ottoman-ruled lands of the Middle East, had recognized the right of the Jews to settle in all parts of Eretz Yisrael (or Palestine, as it was referred to).

Since no one but a handful of historians knows about the San Remo Conference, for most members of my generation San Remo was a song contest, and for members of younger generations it is at most an Italian seaside resort, Sa’ar could dare say what he said with relative impunity.

But what was actually said in San Remo in regard to Jewish settlement in Palestine is the following: “The High Contracting Parties agree to entrust...the administration of Palestine, within such boundaries as may be determined by the Principal Allied Powers, to a Mandatory, to be selected by the said Powers. The Mandatory will be responsible for putting into effect the declaration originally made on November 8, 1917, by the British Government [the Balfour Declaration – SHR] in favour of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”

Indeed, this particular declaration did not mention the national rights of the non-Jewish population. However, in the meantime there have been many other international declaration and resolutions that have dealt with the national rights of the Palestinians, and none of which recognized our right to settle everywhere in Palestine, or established any sort of legal justification for the Edmond Levy report.

My guess is that once again Netanyahu will climb down from the tree that he inadvertently climbed. As to our minister of education – he gets an F in history.

The writer is a former Knesset employee and a member of the Labor Party.


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