Levy report finalized in record speed, handed to Netanyahu weeks before release = Israel's preferred solution?

According to Jonathan Cook, Israel’s Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu “was handed the [Levy] report more than a fortnight earlier but was apparently reluctant to make it public … It was Netanyahu himself who established the committee earlier this year to assess the legality of the Jewish settlers’ “outposts,” ostensibly unauthorized by the government, that have spread like wild seeds across the West Bank”.

The Levy Report, published in Hebrew, is now available in summary form in English translation here.

The Levy Report seems to be Netanyahu’s answer to the U.S./Quartet demand to both Israelis and Palestinians to put down in writing what they see as the solution.

This is what many — though not all — Israelis want; it is the plan that’s been filed away in the drawer for years, just now brought out for view. Netanyahu has promised to study it, and has not yet moved to formally adopt it.

The Palestinian response has already been given: it is, as it was in the 1988 declaration of the State of Palestine by Yasser Arafat [and approved by the PLO’s Palestine National Council on the land that was not under Israeli control on 4 June 1967 just before the Six-Day war.

In recent years, particularly since the Geneva Initiative of December 2003, this was tempered with an apparent agreement to have “minor” territorial swaps of equal size and quality. The Palestinian opening position was that this swap should amount to something like 1.7% of the total land area, while for Israelis [under Prime Minister Olmert] this should be just about 10%. [PLO sources have suggested that in a successful negotiation, this swap should thus end up being something like 4.6%…]

In The Independent last September, just prior to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’ formal submission of a request for full UN membership — which has been blocked by Israeli disapproval backed firmly by the U.S., Donald Macintryre wrote here that the reason for this opposition is Israel’s settlement enterprise in the West Bank [which the U.S. rather ineffectively disapproves]. Macintryre said that: “the issue at the heart of the high diplomacy thousands of miles away in New York, where President Mahmoud Abbas is trying through the UN to take another faltering step towards a Palestinian state” is this: “If that state existed, Yitzhar [one of 100-200 Israeli settlements in the West Bank], seen most of the international community, including Britain, as an illegal settlement, along with many others circling Nablus, would not”…

In my own trip up to Nablus in the northern West Bank on Thursday, the main north-south axis [Road 60] is dotted all along the way by orderly housing on the hilltops that are immediately identifiable as Israeli settlements, most with red-tiled roofs, and some, in Ofra, with wooden exteriors and roofs. Peripheral mobile homes signifies expansion, and this sight is common. There are plenty of other Israeli settlements off the major roadway, in an eastern tip of the West Bank which is not far from Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport. There are also many Israeli settlements hidden in the hilly land between Road 60 and the well-paved and lit Israeli-built road running directly east from Maale Adumim to the Jordan Valley, and also along Road 90 running north-south parallel to the Jordan River.

The dusty Palestiniah houses and villages along the way, the people walking along the roadside or waiting for a careening yellow overcroweded minivan to do errands or go shopping from rows of roadside shops, visibly testifies to the comparatively poorer style of life by comparison with the thousands and thousands of Israeli settlers who drive through as fast as possible, and for whose protection there are multiple mobile Israeli military patrols always nearby.

Though the phrase is blunt and cannot convey the full and gritty reality, a celebrated metaphor used by of the Palestinian negotiators in recent years descibes the effect: “We were negotiating about dividing up a pizza while they are eating it!”

There is not unanimity in Israeli public opinion about keeping [much less expanding] these settlements. Former Knesset speaker [from 1999 – 2003] Avraham Burg wrote in early June, about a month prior to the publication of the Levy Report, in another piece published in The Independent, here, that “anyone who wants to erase the pre-1967 border is essentially asking to erase the basic values on which the State of Israel was established: democracy, equality, the rule of law, secularism and modernity. Colonising Palestinian land across the Green Line goes in the opposite direction: it generates fanatic, nationalistic, fundamentalist and anti-democratic energies that threaten all civilised Israeli foundations. I have decided to not buy any product that comes from the settlements. I do not cross the Green Line, not to promote public causes and not for family events. Because everything happening across the Green Line is the dark alter ego of Israel. Its hidden personality is manifest there. Evil, aggressive and impenetrable. This personality threatens to take over the good and humane parts of the legitimate Israel. With international help, we must return these demons to their bottles, or rather to those positive domains for which this state was established”.

Tamar Feldman, Director of the Human Rights in the Occupied Territories Department in the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, wrote in response to the Levy Report that its conclusions “are legally unfounded and their purpose is to authorize and deepen the injustice that Israeli governments are performing in the Occupied Territories in the past 45 years. The settlement enterprise created a wrongful situation of absolute preference, in all areas of life, to the interests of settlers over those of Palestinians, while appropriating the land and water resources of the occupied population and injuring this population’s most basic rights – such as the right to property, to freedom of movement, to personal safety, and above all to equality before the law. The devastating consequences of Israeli settlements on the human rights of the Palestinian population are the ultimate proof of the importance of following the directives of international law in general and the laws of occupation in particular … Since 1967, consecutive Israeli governments held a steadfast and unequivocal position that the Occupied Territories are being held in belligerent occupation, meaning a military occupation, and they do not constitute a part of the State of Israel. There is complete agreement on this matter between Israel and the rest of the world, and rejecting this position – through a committee appointed by the Prime Minister – is outrageous.”

    Cook noted, in his article that was published both on the Electronic Intifada website here and earlier in The National, here, that “Certainly, Levy’s opinion should have come as no surprise. In 2005 he was the only Israeli high court judge to oppose the government’s decision to withdraw the settlers from Gaza. Legal commentators too have been dismissive of the report. They have concentrated more on Levy’s dubious reasoning than on the report’s political significance. They have noted that Theodor Meron, the foreign ministry’s legal advisor in 1967, expressly warned the government in the wake of the war that year that settling civilians in the newly seized territory was a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention“.

    But, Cook added, if according to the reasoning of the Levy Report the West Bank [and Gaza] are not occupied [for, if they were, Israel should move out its settlers and its troops], then they should be annexed [and form a Greater Israel] — but both are problematic. However, he wrote, “from Israel’s point of view, there may, in fact, be a way out of this conundrum. In a 2003 interview, one of the other Levy committee members, Alan Baker, a settler who advised the foreign ministry for many years, explained Israel’s heterodox interpretation of the Oslo accords, signed a decade earlier. The agreements were not, as most assumed, the basis for the creation of a Palestinian state in the territories, but a route to establish the legitimacy of the settlements. ‘We are no longer an occupying power, but we are instead present in the territories with their [the Palestinians’] consent and subject to the outcome of negotiations’, Baker said. On this view, the Oslo accords redesignated the 62 percent of the West Bank assigned to Israel’s control — so-called Area C — from ‘occupied’ to ‘disputed’ territory“…

As Israel has said almost non-stop, the status of the “disputed” territory is to be resolved in negotiations.

That seems to mean that the Palestinians come to the table and sit down to listen to what Israel wants — and then basically to agree, with possible very minor adjustments.

From Israel’s point of view, the status of Gaza is no longer their problem, because of their unilateral 2005 “disengagement” from Gaza. However, most legal experts continue to believe that Gaza remains occupied, because of Israel’s “effective control” of the Gaza Strip [though it has no “boots on the ground” on any regular basis, Israel can and does intervene militarily as it wants, usually from a distance or by remote control, to save the lives of Israeli soldiers]. Israel also maintains total control of Gaza’s air and sea space, and this control alone is an indication of occupation.”

Israel did effectively annex, about two weeks after the June 1967 war, what it has since called the “Greater Jerusalem Municipality” — and what Israel means by that is the Old City of East Jerusalem, plus an arc of West Bank territory running in a crescent around the Old City, from near Ramallah in the north to almost Bethlehem in the south.

So, that leaves the rest of the West Bank. Now, Israel has made increasingly clear that they intend to keep the “settlement blocs”. This is unspecified, and used to mean Ariel, Maale Adumim, and Gush Etzion. Now, the claim is much more extensive, and apparently includes Beit El, a huge area of Israeli military bases, military administrative offices, and civilian housing for Israelis only. The Jordan Valley, or large parts of it, seem also to be included.

Israel’s opposition leader who was Deputy Prime Minister for the past 70 days after forming a coalition with Netanyanu that he has just dissolved, Shaul Mofaz, said in Washington DC on June 20 that the settlements Israel wants will then form the eastern border of the State of Israel.

Ramallah, which is the de facto administrative capital of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, will become an enclave within this expanded Israel — a reality which is being sketched out on the ground right now, with Ramallah increasingly isolated by the monstrous and dangerous bottleneck it has created in and around Qalandia Checkpoint. Any other way to Ramallah is many times longer, and can easily be cut off.

Unfortunately, for the extremely uncomfortable Palestinians in the West Bank, what this Israeli unilateral plan seems to envisage for them is not integration into a greater state, but a continuation of the status quo: continued military occupation in enclaves, with military control over most aspects of their lives.

Cook’s article suggests that this may also involve some movement of Palestinians out of the West Bank Area C, in or near the areas Israel intends to keep, and into the already-chaotic Palestinian cities in Area A of the West Bank, under some form of continued Palestinian Authority control — if the PA can hold together in such circumstances [which is a very big IF]:

    “Jeff Halper, head of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, the Levy report is preparing the legal ground for Israel’s annexation of Area C”, Cook wrote, [and] “over recent weeks, there were indications of Israel’s next moves to strengthen its hold on Area C. It was reported that Israel’s immigration police, which have been traditionally restricted to operating inside Israel, have been authorized to enter the West Bank and expel foreign activists. The new powers were on show the same day as foreigners, including a New York Times reporter, were arrested at one of the regular protests against the separation wall being built on Palestinian land. Such demonstrations are the chief expression of resistance to Israel’s takeover of Palestinian territory in Area C. And it emerged that Israel had begun a campaign against OCHA, the UN agency that focuses on humanitarian harm done to Palestinians from Israeli military and settlement activity, most of it in Area C. Israel has demanded details of where OCHA’s staff work and what projects it is planning, and is threatening to withdraw staff visas, apparently in the hope of limiting its activities in Area C … If the PA refuses to, or cannot, take on these remaining fragments of the West Bank, Israel may simply opt to turn back the clock and once again cultivate weak and isolated local leaders for each Palestinian city”.