JERUSALEM -- Members of a government advisory panel in Israel said Monday they have recommended that the country formally authorize dozens of West Bank settlements that were built without military permission, including some currently slated for demolition because they sit on private Palestinian land.
The panel, headed by retired Supreme Court Justice Edmond Levy, also concluded that Israel’s military control over the West Bank does not meet the legal definition of occupation under international law, contradicting the long-standing opinions of the United Nations, the International Court of Justice and Israel's own Supreme Court. Most of the International community views Israel's settlements as illegal.
The panel's controversial conclusions are purely advisory and nonbinding, and it remained unclear whether the government would adopt them. But some observers fear right-wing Israeli politicians will use the findings to further expand Israeli settlements in the West Bank, dealing another blow to the peace process.
Palestinian leaders denounced the report, saying it proves that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who convened the panel earlier this year, is not serious about resuming talks. Palestinians have refused to return to the negotiating table until Israel halts settlement construction in the West Bank, which Palestinians hope to one day make their own state.
According to the panel, Jewish settlement in the West Bank should be formally sanctioned and encouraged by easing the permit and authorization process and allowing Israelis to register property ownership.
In 2005, another government panel reached the opposite conclusion, ruling that more than 100 West Bank settlements, known as outposts, were illegal and should be torn down.
Legal analysts predicted that the government would be hard-pressed to accept the latest findings, particularly the conclusion that Israel is not an occupying force. Israel’s military has often exerted its rights as an occupying power under international law to seize land in the West Bank for military purposes.
Attorney Michael Sfard, a human-rights activist, told Israel Radio that the panel had "lost touch with reality. The occupation is a ... reality."
[Updated, 8:52 a.m. July 9: He later said the panel's findings were "not a legal report but an ideological report that ignores the basic principles of the rule of law."
Netanyahu thanked the committee for its "important" work and referred the report to a Cabinet subcommittee for consideration.]
The panel concluded that Israel’s seizure of the West Bank during the 1967 Middle East War did not meet the legal definition of “occupation” under the Geneva Conventions because "no other legal entity has ever had its sovereignty over the area cemented under international law," according to excerpts from the report quoted by Israeli media.
Jordan controlled the West Bank at the time, but its annexation of the territory was never recognized by the international community.
-- Edmund Sanders
Photo: Jewish settlers try to rebuild a structure demolished earlier by Israeli troops in the West Bank outpost of Maoz Esther on May 21, 2009. Credit: Sebastian Scheiner / Associated Press