published report by an Israeli judge concluding that Israel is not in fact
occupying the Palestinian territories -- despite a well-established international
consensus to the contrary -- has provoked mostly incredulity or mirth in Israel
websites in Israel used comically captioned photographs to highlight Justice
Edmond Levy's preposterous finding. One shows an Israeli soldier pressing the
barrel of a rifle to the forehead of a Palestinian pinned to the ground, saying:
"You see -- I told you there's no occupation."
Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, seemed a little discomfited by the coverage
last week. He was handed the report more than a fortnight earlier but was
apparently reluctant to make it public.
Levy report's significance may prove unwise, however. If Netanyahu is
embarrassed, it is only because of the timing of the report's publication rather
than its substance.
It was, after
all, the Israeli prime minister 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
its three members, all diehard supporters of the settlements, and received the
verdict he expected -- that the settlements are legal. Certainly, Levy's opinion
should have come as no surprise. In 2005 he was the only Supreme Court judge to
oppose the government's decision to withdraw the settlers from
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commentators too have been dismissive of the report. They have concentrated more
on Levy's dubious reasoning than on the report's political
They have noted
that Theodor Meron, the foreign ministry's legal adviser in 1967, expressly
warned the government in the wake of the Six-Day War that settling civilians in
the newly seized territory was a violation of the Fourth Geneva
also pointed to the difficulties Israel will face if it adopts Levy's
international law, Israel's rule in the West Bank and Gaza is considered
"belligerent occupation" and, therefore, its actions must be justified by
military necessity only. If there is no occupation, Israel has no military
grounds to hold on to the territories. In that case, it must either return the
land to the Palestinians, and move out the settlers, or defy international law
by annexing the territories, as it did earlier with East Jerusalem, and
establish a state of Greater Israel.
however, poses its own dangers. Israel must either offer the Palestinians
citizenship and wait for a non-Jewish majority to emerge in Greater Israel; or
deny them citizenship and face pariah status as an apartheid
concerns were raised on Sunday by 40 Jewish leaders in the United States, who
called on Netanyahu to reject Levy's "legal maneuverings" that, they said,
threatened Israel's "future as a Jewish and democratic
Israel's point of view, there may, in fact, be a way out of this
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
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
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.
That explains why every Israeli administration since the mid-1990s has indulged
in an orgy of settlement-building there.
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. His
disquiet is shared by others.
Union reports have used unprecedented language to criticize Israel for the
"forced transfer" -- diplomat-speak for ethnic cleansing -- of Palestinians out of
Area C into the West Bank's cities, which fall under Palestinian
The EU notes
that the numbers of Palestinians in Area C has shrunk dramatically under Israeli
rule to fewer than 150,000, or no more than 6 percent of the Palestinian
population of the West Bank. Settlers now outnumber Palestinians more than
two-to-one in Area C.
annex nearly two-thirds of the West Bank and still safely confer citizenship on
Palestinians there. Adding 150,000 to the existing 1.5 million Palestinian
citizens of Israel, a fifth of the population, would not erode the Jewish
If Netanyahu is
hesitant, it is only because the time is not yet ripe for implementation. But
over the weekend, 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 on Sunday
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
There is a
problem, nonetheless. If Israel takes Area C, it needs someone else responsible
for the other 38 percent of the West Bank -- little more than 8 percent of
historic Palestine -- to "fill the vacuum," as Israeli commentators phrased it
candidate is the Palestinian Authority, the Ramallah government-in-waiting led
by Mahmoud Abbas. Its police forces already act as a security contractor for
Israel, keeping in check Palestinians in the parts of the West Bank outside Area
C. Also, as a recipient of endless international aid, the PA usefully removes
the financial burden of the occupation from Israel.
But the PA's
weakness is evident on all fronts: it has lost credibility with ordinary
Palestinians, it is impotent in international forums, and it is mired in
financial crisis. In the long term, it looks doomed.
For the time
being, though, Israel seems keen to keep the PA in place. Last month, for
example, it was revealed that Israel had tried -- even if unsuccessfully -- to
bail out the PA by requesting a $100 million loan from the International
Monetary Fund on the PA's behalf.
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.
The question is
whether the international community can first be made to swallow Levy's absurd
A version of this
article first appeared in The National, Abu Dhabi