Netanyahu names c'tee to examine outpost issue

Edmund Levy, Alan Baker and Tchia Shapira to examine West Bank land status.

Mitzpe Yitzhar outpost 311 (photo credit: (Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post))
Mitzpe Yitzhar outpost 311
(photo credit: (Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post))
After months of delay, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Monday appointed a three-person judicial panel – nicknamed the “outpost committee” – to examine land ownership issues in Judea and Samaria.
The panel is composed of former Supreme Court justice Edmund Levy, former Foreign Ministry legal adviser Alan Baker and former Tel Aviv District Court deputy president Tchia Shapira. It is due to report to the Prime Minister’s Office within three months.
The newly formed committee marks only the second time the Prime Minister’s Office has commissioned a report to deal with the issue of West Bank outposts. The first was in 2005. That report was written by private attorney Talia Sasson.
It is expected that this new report will address some of the issues that have since been raised with respect to Sasson’s report; specifically, her classification of private Palestinian property.
An Israeli official said that Sasson’s association with the left-wing Meretz party a number of years later harmed her report’s legitimacy.
It was therefore important that a wider legal panel explore this issue, the official said.
MK Danny Danon (Likud) said on Monday, “I believe that this committee will bury the Talia Sasson report, which was a political, one-sided document against the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.”
Sasson said that her work was professional and not influenced by politics. The attorney-general approved it before it was submitted to the government in 2005, she said.
She noted that she ran for the Knesset with Meretz four years after she completed the report. “I was not so political when I prepared the report,” she said.
Those who attack the document, she said, were “running away” from answering difficult questions regarding illegal West Bank Jewish construction.
The proper response to that activity was not to supplant the report by appointing a new committee, she said.
The word “outpost” was not included in the carefully worded message from the Prime Minister’s Office regarding the new panel. But even before Netanyahu and Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman created the committee, it earned the nickname “outpost committee.” It is widely expected that it will examine the status of outposts built on private Palestinians land.
For months, right-wing politicians, both in and outside the Likud, urged Netanyahu to form the committee in hopes that pending outpost demolitions could be staved off if land recognized as private Palestinian property was re-classified as state land.
The issue of outpost demolitions is particularly acute given that the High Court of Justice has ordered the state to demolish the Migron outpost by the end of March.
The state has also promised the court that it will demolish three other sites by year’s end – the Ulpana, Givat Assaf and Amona outposts.
All four are located on land classified by the state as belonging to private Palestinians.
The new report, however, is expected to be completed only after the deadline for the demolition of Migron, which is located in the Binyamin region of the West Bank, and is home to 50 families.
An Israeli official told The Jerusalem Post that the report was not expected to affect the issue of Migron.
The best solution for Migron residents would be to accept the compromise solution offered to them by Netanyahu to voluntarily relocate to a nearby piece of state land, the official said.
The official stressed that the prime minister’s policy on outposts had not changed. Those unauthorized communities built on private Palestinian property must be removed according to the law, the official said.
Hagit Ofran of Peace Now attacked the committee and said its creation was one more step by the state toward the legalization of West Bank outposts.
“I am surprised that justice Edmund Levy would agree to take on the task of authorizing stolen property,” Ofran said.
She added that she hoped the committee would conclude that such “theft” should not be legitimized.
Sasson said that in the past, Levy had taken stands in support of the settlements.
Before 2005’s pullout from the Gaza Strip, Levy was the only Supreme Court justice, out of an 11-member legal panel, who opposed the government’s disengagement plan, she said.
“I have no expectations from this government,” she said. “If the committee’s purpose is to provide a legal way to take private Palestinian land and to let the settlers stay there, this is unjust. I am very sorry that a former Supreme Court justice has taken this issue on this shoulders.
“The whole thing is quite sad because we are talking about Israeli democracy,” Sasson said.
But Dani Dayan, who heads the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, said of Levy, “he is an unbiased person, no doubt about it.” All three panel members are “highly prestigious” lawyers and jurists, Dayan said.
He greeted the committee’s appointment with cautious optimism.
“The most important thing is that it was established finally, at last, and that it has a green light to start working,” Dayan said.
But he said that what needed to happen was for the government to change its policy with respect to the outposts.
Whether this happens with the help of the committee or in another way, “the important thing is to see a change,” he said.
But Minister of Sports and Culture Limor Livnat (Likud), who first urged Netanyahu to create this committee back in October, said she hoped that its work would show that the settlers were emissaries of the state who had gone to live in outposts at its urging.
“I hope that this panel will succeed in authorizing communities and neighborhoods in Judea and Samaria,” Livnat said.