PM asks AG to finalize opinion on Levy report

Likud ministers urge Netanyahu to act immediately on report which states that W. Bank settlements are legal under int'l law.

Itamar settlement hilltop 311 R (photo credit: Abed Omar Qusini / Reuters)
Itamar settlement hilltop 311 R
(photo credit: Abed Omar Qusini / Reuters)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has asked Attorney- General Yehuda Weinstein to provide an opinion by the end of the week on the Levy Report, which states that West Bank settlements are legal under international law.
Netanyahu made his request on Sunday at the weekly meeting of Likud ministers, according to an official in attendance.
The government-commissioned report, headed by former Supreme Court justice Edmund Levy, which also calls for the authorization of West Bank outposts when possible, was submitted to Netanyahu in July.
At the time Netanyahu said he would bring the recommendations to the Ministerial Committee on Settlement Affairs for debate, but he never made good on that pledge, despite pressure to do so from his party’s right-wing flank. Ahead of the Likud primary on November 25 and the national election on January 22, they have renewed their pressure on the prime minister to approve the report either through the committee or the cabinet.
Rumors surfaced last week that Netanyahu planned to deal with it on Sunday, but that Weinstein acted to prevent that in light of the upcoming elections.
Netanyahu and the Attorney-General’s Office have been quiet on the topic.
Last week, Weinstein wrote a memo to all the ministries urging them not to make major policy decisions now that the country is heading to elections and the government is a transitional one.
On Sunday, however, politicians at Likud’s weekly ministerial meeting urged the prime minister to act on the report now.
“Netanyahu’s government must act immediately to adopt the report by justice Edmund Levy,” Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat said at the meeting. Weinstein has no legal reason by which to prevent the cabinet from adopting the Levy Report, she said.
“We are not a transitional government, we are a sitting government,” Livnat said. “We have the full legal and political authority to adopt the report.”
She recalled that after elections were announced in 2008, she turned to then-attorney-general Menahem Mazuz and asked him to halt the negotiations that then-prime minister Ehud Olmert was conducting with Syria, on the grounds that he now led a transitional government.
Mazuz responded with a clear opinion that a transitional government has the full authority to make decisions, according to a 2001 decision by the High Court of Justice, Livnat said.
“It can’t be that there is one judgment for a left-wing government and another one for a right-wing one,” she said.
“Adopting the Levy Report is a historically just act that that will right the wrongs caused to the Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria by the Sasson Report,” she said, referencing a 2005 government report by attorney Tali Sasson detailing illegal government funding of unauthorized West Bank outposts.
Transportation Minister Israel Katz also urged Netanyahu to approve the Levy Report at next Sunday’s cabinet meeting.
The continued delays are unacceptable, he said, urging the prime minister to put it on the agenda. There is time for Weinstein to issue an opinion after the cabinet deals with it, Katz added, according to his spokesman.
But not all government officials support the report.
Last week Defense Minister Ehud Barak said he believed that its authors erred in their legal opinion. He argued that its passage would harm the peace process and further isolate Israel in the international arena.
Approval of the document would reassure right-wing voters in advance of the elections that the Likud Party truly supports Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria. But it would also likely antagonize the international community and the Palestinians, who believe that Israel is occupying that territory.
There is speculation that if Netanyahu were to bring the document to the cabinet or the Ministerial Committee on Settlement Affairs now, he would only present a modified version, absent some of elements that the international community would find most controversial.
Aside from its broad legal opinion on the status of settlements under international law, the report also argues that land disputes in the West Bank should be determined by a separate judicial system created specifically to handle those cases. This would include instances in which Israelis and Palestinians claim ownership of the same tract of land.
Meretz party chairwoman Zehava Gal-On weighed in on the issue with a statement to the media. She said she believed Weinstein opposed the report because its conclusions run counter to international law.
Likud ministers fear the righ-twing elements in their party such as activist Moshe Feiglin more than they do Weinstein, she added. The attorney-general has a duty to warn the government if it is about to err legally, she said.
“A decision by the attorney-general obligates the whole government,” Gal-On said. “Its ministers can not declare war on the rule of law because of personal considerations related to the primaries.”