Dror Eydar – Jul 05, 2012
The biggest news story of the week, perhaps of the year, slipped under the media radar yesterday: Edna Adato of Israel Hayom revealed the main points of a report drafted by the Committee to Examine the State of Construction in Judea and Samaria, headed by retired Supreme Court Justice Edmond Levi. The report touches upon the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and makes sense of the matter. One can say that the government received permission to toss attorney Talia Sasson’s report on settlement outposts into the dustbin of history.
Levi’s report concludes that Israel has the right to settle Jews in Judea and Samaria, and that it is incorrect to say that building settlements is illegal according to international law: “According to international law Israelis have the legal right to settle in all of Judea and Samaria, and at the very least in territories under Israeli control based on agreements with the Palestinian Authority; and therefore the creation of settlements in and of itself is not an illegal act.”
The committee also concludes: “From the viewpoint of international law, statutes regarding the ‘occupation’ are inapplicable due to the special legal and historical circumstances regarding the decades-long Israeli presence in Judea and Samaria.”
Since the 1970s, senior jurists in Israel and abroad have argued that Israel is completely within its rights to settle its citizens in Judea and Samaria. Among them are the President of the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Judge Stephen Schwebel; Prof. Elihu Lauterpacht of Cambridge University; and Prof. Eugene Rostow, the former Deacon at Yale’s school of law, all of whom, along with others, have voiced their clear opinions in regards to Israel’s just claim over Judea and Samaria within the historical and legal circumstances.
Since the Six-Day War, however, Israel has refrained from declaring the permanent status of the territories it won, excluding Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.
Into this vacuum Chief Justice Aharon Barak and others inserted the legal paradigm of “Belligerent Occupation,” according to which military governance draws its authority from the rules of international law in territories that were won in war. The significance is that Israel is deemed, allegedly, to be a foreign occupier, and it doesn’t have the right to apply its sovereignty over, or to move its civilian population into, those territories.
Some of the measures which hostile legal bodies have taken against the settlement enterprise in Judea and Samaria stemmed from this perception. These measures, which aimed at strangling the settlement enterprise, received justification from the State Prosecutor’s Office due to its adoption of the Belligerent Occupation paradigm, despite the current government’s many objections.
If the territories aren’t occupied, the Left has argued over the years, they must be annexed, including the populations there. But the reality isn’t a polar one, it is complex. The current report recognizes an intermediate reality: At hand is a disputed territory; two entities hold it; none of the sides is considered an “occupier.” There is disagreement regarding ownership, which needs to be clarified through different means, but there is no definition of “occupation” in the international legal sense of the word.
A perception of Belligerent Occupation occurs when one country conquers the territories of another country. In our case, the last sovereign power was the British Mandate, which received its legitimacy from the League of Nations to create a national home for the Jews in the Land of Israel.
The Jordanian occupation was never recognized (aside from Britain and Pakistan), and Israel never conquered “Jordanian territory.” Moreover, Jordan renounced its sovereignty over these territories toward the late 1980s.
Another dramatic point in the report is its stance on communities which were built without a government decision (“Unauthorized”). The report concludes that because their creation and development occurred with the knowledge, encouragement and agreement of the most senior government echelons, “this conduct must be considered to be ‘authorization.'”
Therefore, “the act of eviction from these communities is impractical and a different solution must be found, such as compensation or alternative land offers. For this reason the committee has suggested to the state that it refrain from carrying out demolition orders in these communities, which it is in essence responsible for creating.”
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