The Levy Report: the West Bank is not occupied, settlements are not illegal

A bombshell. One that probably should have been expected. But it still came by surprise.

A report from a committee appointed by the current Israeli government, and headed by retired Israeli Supreme Court Justice Edmund Levy, has just said, basically that the West Bank is not occupied.

As Israeli Attorney Michael Sfard wrote in an explanation in Haaretz today [the Levy Report is not available in English] that: “The West Bank is not occupied, it announced, but rather ‘a territory designated as the national home of the Jewish people… which the governments of Israel… chose not to annex but to approach pragmatically to allow peace negotiations’. And why is that? Because the Balfour Declaration of 1917, the committee tells us, and the British Mandate, designated the territory for the Jewish state. There, in 1922, ended legal history, as far as the committee is concerned…It dismisses the Partition Resolution of 1947, that established the principle of founding two states between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, with the strange statement that it was ‘a plan that did not gain purchase in international law’. The committee does not even bother to mention dozens of statements and declarations by almost all the countries in the world and the many international bodies that actually do recognize the right of the Palestinian people to establish an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza. Nor does it mention the advisory opinion of the International Court in Hague. The same goes for all of the experts on international law, who in a rare consensus, agree that this is a clear case of occupation. The report does not try to contend with the enormous existing discourse, it tries to silence it”. This commentary by Michael Sfard is published here.

Part of the Israeli argument that the West Bank [and Gaza] are disputed rather than occupied rests on the constructed argument of “no prior legitimate sovereign” — that is, the Jordanian and Egyptian armies [and a few others] moved in on 14-15 May 1948, after Israel’s proclamation of independence. They moved into an area vacated by the British without any arrangement in place for its continued governance or administration. This area where Jordanian and Egyptian and other Arab troops showed up had been part of the League of Nations Mandate that was administered by Britain after they threw the remaining Ottoman military out in 1918, and the Mandate finally officially conferred to Britain at British insistence in 1923. So, the Israeli argument goes, since there was no legitimate prior sovereign, the territory was without a ruler for a few hours, and cannot be considered occupied.

The upshot of the Israeli argument that this territory is disputed and that the Jewish people have a claim which will have to be settled in negotiations. But meanwhile, Israeli civilian law will continue to apply to the areas that Israel chooses, and at least until the present moment Israeli military law applies to the Palestinians living there.

So, while Israeli Defense Minister (now, Ehud Barak) rules the Palestinians living in the occupied Palestinian territory under Israeli belligerent military occupation, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu rules the Israeli settlers in the West Bank…and the Israeli Army that protects them.

Another part of the argument in the Levy Report apparently rests on the argument that Israel’s military actions in the June 1967 war were part of a “defensive war” — an argument that scholars increasingly challenge. In the Egyptian submission to the International Court of Justice’s Advisory Opinion on The Wall in July 2009, the Egyptian government argues that Israel was the initiator of this war. Egypt’s removal of UN peacekeeping observers from the Sinai and its closures of the Strait of Tiran, which Israel cites as provocation initiating the 1967 war, are instead viewed by these scholars as acts of aggression that fall short of acts of war, and therefore do not justify the launch of military operations in response.

The rest of our analysis — partial though it is — of this report which proposes to enshrine the present awful reality in the West Bank, where Israeli settlers live as free and protected Israeli citizens under the protection of law, but where Palestinians are subject to overwhelming, arbitrary, disruptive and cruel military rule, can be read on our sister blog, UN-Truth, here.