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 hegemony.

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.

A setback 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 national suicide.

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 state.

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 still is.

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 terrorism.

Essentially a form of military dictatorship by the defense minister, this system is completely at odds with any notions of democracy.

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.

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