After nearly six months of investigations, three legal experts known colloquially as “the outpost committee” – a government-appointed advisory body – submitted some clear-cut conclusions.

For instance, the trio – former Supreme Court justice Edmond Levy, former Foreign Ministry legal adviser Alan Baker and former deputy president of the Tel Aviv District Court Tehiya Shapira – found that the hundreds of thousands of patriotic, productive Israeli citizens living in Judea, Samaria and the Golan Heights are not criminals, as many of Israel’s adversaries – and allies – would argue.

They also found that the 45-year-old settlement project, which has reunited the Jewish people to land resonating with Jewish history dating back thousands of years, cannot in any way be construed as an international crime.

The trio's argument, backed up by their intimate knowledge of international law, is based on a few simple facts.

First, the British Mandate, which came into effect in September 1922 after being ratified by the League of Nations, called for the creation of “a national home for the Jewish people” in the territory west of the Jordan River, including Judea and Samaria.

Second, the 1947 UN Partition Plan for Palestine never replaced the British Mandate as intended. It was accepted by the Jewish community in Palestine represented by the Jewish Agency, but was rejected by both the Palestinian Arab Higher Committee and by the states belonging to the Arab League.

Third, in the wake of Israel’s War of Independence, when first local Palestinian militias and later the combined armies of Jordan, Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon tried but failed to snuff out the Jewish state. Jordan seized control of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) and parts of Jerusalem, but its sovereignty over these areas was never recognized by the international community.

Fourth, after the Six Day War, when once again the combined armies of Egypt, Syria and Jordan, with the help of numerous other countries and organizations – including the PLO – tried and failed to wipe Israel off the map, Israel found itself in control of Judea, Samaria and Gaza, along with the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights.

In 1988, Jordan ceded its claims to the West Bank to the PLO. But these so-called claims were less substantial than Israel’s for a number of reasons. First, the British Mandate never recognized Jordan’s right to the land west of the Jordan River.

Also, Jordan seized the territory in an aggressive offensive against the fledgling Jewish state. And the newly created Jordanian state – essentially a British construction – had absolutely no historical ties to Judea and Samaria, while for Jews, it is the cradle of Jewish civilization and statehood from the biblical era.

Far from “occupied,” the status of Judea and Samaria – if one is being generous with regard to Palestinian demands – can at best be described as sui generis.

The territory enjoys a unique status in international law as land that has never been unequivocally set aside for a specific people by the international community.

Even UN Resolution 242, which introduced the “land-for-peace” formula, calls on Israel to withdraw from “territories” in exchange for peace with its neighbors, but not all territories.

It was clear to the international community immediately after the Six Day War that Israel would retain an undetermined portion of Judea, Samaria and Gaza. (Israel has since magnanimously ceded the Gaza Strip to the Palestinians.) Unfortunately, the outpost committee’s conclusions are not so obvious to everyone. Just three months ago, for instance, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in response to moves by Israel to legalize outposts, declared that all settlement activity was “illegal.” Ban’s position reflected the general perception of most of the international community and certain segments of the Israeli Left.

Unsurprisingly, Levy, Baker and Shapira might not succeed in convincing Israel’s detractors that settlements are legal and the men, women and children who populate them are law-abiding citizens by any criterion.

But at least the plain truth has now been reiterated – for the record. And it should be officially recognized as such by the government.

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