Inside Out: Why Netanyahu won’t endorse the Levy Report

Legalizing the outposts would put an end to that façade and would be a slap in the face of the international community.

Rehalim outpost 370 (photo credit:
Rehalim outpost 370
(photo credit:
The settlers and their supporters erupted in jubilation Monday after a committee headed by retired Supreme Court Justice Edmond Levy presented its report on the issue of settlements and outposts in the West Bank.
Likud MK Danny Danon was quoted on Tuesday by Ma’ariv as describing the publication of the report a “day of celebration for settlement.”
The pro-settler crowd appeared to be especially pleased by two particular elements in the report. The first is the general assertion that the territories that Israel conquered from Jordan in 1967 are not legally under “occupation.” As a consequence, the committee stipulated that the Fourth Geneva Convention banning the settlement of citizens from the occupying country in the occupied territories does not apply to the Israeli settlement enterprise in the West Bank.
The second issue that seemed to warm the hearts of the settler supporters was the committee’s refusal to allow the government to disavow its responsibility for the settlement outposts. The Levy Committee found that the government had lent its ongoing tacit support to the establishment of the outposts, and could not hide behind the absence of formal authorization.
The committee went on to recommend legalizing retroactively all of outposts that were not situated on privately-owned property, and allowing them to grow and flourish, like other settlements.
The enthusiastic response by the prosettler crowd was particularly surprising – a front page commentary in Makor Rishon called it nothing short of a “watershed moment”– given the lack of novelty in the ideas put forward by the report.
After all, the arguments in support of the settlement enterprise as a whole and the settlement outposts in particular are anything but new. They have been espoused for years by the settlers and their supporters, including prominent members of the Netanyahu government in the recent past. Just a few months ago Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon posted on YouTube a clip reviewing the history of the Israeli-Arab conflict that presented the very same “there is no occupation” theory put forward by the Levy Committee.
In June cabinet ministers from the Likud cited arguments that were identical to the ones put forward by the Levy Committee about long-standing and ongoing tacit support the government had given the various outposts as justification for a bill to legalize the outposts retroactively.
So if the report contains nothing new and reflects positions that are prevalent among the cabinet ministers in any event, why is the right wing celebrating? MOST IMMEDIATELY, the pro-settler sector was pleased because the Levy report served to undercut the Sasson report, which had branded the dozens of outposts that were set up without formal government authorization illegal and had called for them to be removed. But since the Sasson report in any event had not had any practical impact on the ground – there was no mass removal of the outposts in its wake – that questionable moral victory can’t quite explain the excitement elicited by the Levy report.
It seems the real hope of the pro-settler bloc is that the Levy report will now become official government policy. The hope is that after receiving support from the unimpeachable legal minds who sat on the Levy Committee, the government will feel free to pursue its ideology of settling the West Bank openly.
Sentiments along those lines were voiced this week by Likud MKs and ministers, including Yisrael Katz, who was quoted by Ma’ariv this on Tuesday as calling on the government to “endorse the report so as to remove obstacles and to allow continued activity for the sake of the development, strengthening and entrenchment of the settlements in Judea and Samaria.”
A development of that kind, however, is highly unlikely.
Prime Minister Netanyahu shot down the bill that was geared to legalize outposts in June not on ideological grounds but in fear of the international political repercussions that such legislation was liable to produce.
The international community uniformly considers all Israeli settlement in the West Bank to be illegal. It does not accept the Israeli argument that the status of the West Bank is disputed; rather, it holds the West Bank to be unequivocally under Israeli occupation. Even Israel’s staunchest friends refuse to accept the legality of its settlement of the West Bank. Needless to say, the Levy Committee report is not going to change that.
Ever since the signing of the Oslo Accords, all the Israeli governments have undertaken before the international community not to build new settlements on the West Bank. In order to placate the settlers, the Sharon government invented the outpost system, which allowed settlers to expand to dozens of new points across the West Bank, while formally distancing the government from that settlement activity and absolving it of any legal responsibility.
The government was able to tell the international community, “we didn’t sanction the establishment of those renegade outposts, and we undertake to remove them.”
On paper, the Israeli government had to maintain the façade, as if the outposts had been established in defiance of its own policy, in order to maintain ongoing working relations with the international community, which, in turn, was prepared to accept the mendacious assertion so as not to make any unnecessary waves.
But legalizing the outposts would put an end to that façade and would be a slap in the face of the international community, including Israel’s friends and allies, producing dire political repercussions.
That is why Netanyahu shot down the legalization bill last month, and that is why he will almost certainly not endorse the Levy report.
To endorse the Levy report is to unmask the ongoing fraud by the Israeli government; it is to admit openly that the government has lent its tacit support to the establishment of the outposts and, as such, to the ongoing settlement of the West Bank, despite promises to the contrary.
In short, to do so would be politically suicidal for Netanyahu.

The author is a veteran Israeli writer and translator.