For more than four decades Israel’s acquisition of Judea, Samaria and Gaza in
the 1967 Six Day War has been portrayed by those who oppose the right of Jews to
settle these areas as “illegal” and “immoral.” Some include eastern Jerusalem
and the Golan as well.
These prominent politicians, jurists, former and
serving military officers, literati and media personalities represent a small
but powerful elite that has shaped government policy. A distinguished committee
of experts commissioned by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and led by recently
retired High Court justice Edmund Levy has finally broken that ideological
Their report is the first authoritative and official opinion on
Israel’s legal right to Judea and Samaria.
This breakthrough sets the
record straight. Concepts that many have taken for granted, like “the occupation
of Palestinian territory is illegal,” have been rendered myths.
for the international community – especially the UN and the ICRC – which regard
this designation as sacrosanct, this report not only presented Israel’s unique
legal claims, it also recommended that the Israeli government – once and for all
– establish its policy and position. Without referring to it specifically, the
report raised the big question: who has sovereignty in the disputed area?
CONTRARY TO accepted notions that Israel is in “belligerent occupation” of
territories that do not belong to her, and that such occupation “violates
international and humanitarian law” and the “rights of Palestinians,” this
report strikes a major blow to the “two states for two peoples” position and
therefore to the misconceptions that formed the basis of the Oslo Accords and
the “peace process.”
The report decisively ends the delusion that Israel
will withdraw to the 1949 Armistice Lines, which would essentially be an act of
The report is breathtaking in the scope of its critique
of Israeli policy.
For decades the government of Israel has failed to
respond effectively, accurately and responsibly to the charge that “Israel has
stolen Palestinian land.”
The Foreign Ministry has been especially
negligent, preferring ambiguity and nuance instead of clearly stating Israel’s
rights in the areas acquired in 1967.
This failure, led by prominent
Israeli politicians and media, created a mindset that led to the Oslo Accords,
the acceptance of the PLO’s legitimacy and the establishment of the Palestinian
Authority. While transferring control over millions of Arabs to the PA has
advantages, it also implied Israel’s tacit agreement that Judea, Samaria and
Gaza were “illegally occupied” and should become a second Arab Palestinian
This misconception was primarily the fault of Israeli leaders who
sought to trade “land for peace” with Jordan, Syria and Egypt. Arab leaders
rejected this offer, especially after the rise of the PLO in the 1970s, its
campaigns of terror and its acceptance and encouragement by the UN. But Israeli
policy did not change. Even as new and renewed Jewish communities were built in
newly acquired areas, a process of settlement that received support from both
major parties, Labor and Likud, Israeli government policy remained coy, hoping
to make a deal and ideologically driven.
By the time of the Oslo Accords,
however, the process of settlement was irreversible. The international momentum
on behalf of Palestinians and a Palestinian state had begun during the early
1970s when the ICRC and the UN declared that Israel had violated the the Fourth
Geneva Convention, that its occupation was illegal and that any Jewish presence
there was prohibited. Supported by the UN and foreign governments, the PLO laid
the foundations for its diplomatic assault on Israel.
Faced with this
opposition and increasing Palestinian terrorism, Israel ducked for cover. Hoping
that concessions would bring conciliation and international approval, Israel
accepted the misconceptions of “land for peace,” “illegal occupation,” and “the
two state solution.” This became the basis of Israeli policy – and basically
The mechanism by which Israel legitimates this policy is its
application of military law to Judea and Samaria, “Emergency Regulations”
enacted by the British during their Mandate to deal with Arab
Essentially a form of military dictatorship by the defense
minister, this system is completely at odds with any notions of
Originally intended to deal with “security problems,” Israel’s
military administration also decides land disputes and civilian issues for which
it is ill-equipped and unprepared.
In addition, Israel’s primary judicial
institutions share in this anomaly.
The offices of the state prosecutor,
attorney general, civil administration and High Court along with IDF legal
advisers have been compromised by officials with a political (anti-settlement)
agenda. Theirs is a system tightly controlled by those inside, impervious to
criticism, that makes and carries out decisions affecting Israeli citizens
without due process.
Justice Levy’s report, therefore, has important
implications for a much wider policy review, especially regarding the
sovereignty of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel.
Whether or not
its recommendations are accepted and implemented, the report is a turning point
in how Israel and hopefully the international community understand the critical
question: whose land?
The author is a PhD historian, writer and journalist.