Last week the Levy Committee, set up by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to examine the legal status of outposts in the West Bank, announced its findings. According to the committee the IV Geneva Convention does not apply to the West Bank and, therefore, Israel cannot be deemed to be occupying this piece of land. On that basis the 'illegal outposts' in the West Bank, built on what Israel recognizes as state land, should be made legal, and zoning policies should be amended to make it easier for Jews to build in this area. The finding is indeed a win for the settler bloc within the Israeli political arena, and in the face of a defeat over the Ulpana neighborhood in settlement of Beit-El, hugely important in their eyes. It should be noted that the findings of the committee are not legally binding. However, they do inform future debate and can be used as a justification for subsequent political action in the Knesset.
Interestingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, lacking from the report is any mention of the status of the people living on the land. Admittedly this was not the brief of the committee -- the brief of the committee was to determine the legal status of outposts in the West Bank, but can one ever consider the status of a piece of land without taking into consideration the people that live on the land?
If, as the Levy committee reports, there is no occupation of the West Bank, and on that basis, the IV Geneva Convention does not apply, then surely Israel must justify its decision to grant full Israeli citizenship to the 500,000 Israelis that live over the green-line (1949 armistice lines) and deny it to the 2.5 million or so Palestinians that live in the area? If the Levy committee had found Israel to be occupying the West Bank then Israel would have had to defend its reasons for maintaining a 45 year occupation, and moving its citizens into the West Bank through the settlement project, which is prohibited in Article 49 of the IV Geneva Convention. The State of Israel and its courts have never reached a foregone conclusion on the status of the territory. When the settlers in Gaza petitioned the high court in 2005 during the evacuation of Gaza, the court ruled that the evacuation was constitutional, on the basis the land was occupied.
The inability, or perhaps unwillingness, of the Israeli government and courts to agree on a definition of the status of the land is no coincidence. Israeli politicians, judges and citizens alike are well aware, whether they like it or not, that the land of the West Bank that some of Israel's citizens and political establishment would like to lay claim to comes with a sacrificial lamb: democracy. If one deems the land not to be occupied then there is no justification for denying those residing in the land a vote, unless of course the governing power chooses not to define itself according to democratic principles. If Israel was to definitively decide the land is not occupied and give all the residents of the West Bank the right to vote, it would dramatically alter the Jewish nature of the state, as the majority of its citizens would be, in the not too distant future, non-Jewish. It is this basic conundrum that 'mainstreamed' the two-state discourse in Israeli civil society during the 1990s: the understanding that if Israel wished to be a Jewish and democratic state it could not do so without the creation of an independent state of Palestine on the West Bank.
But it seems that this conundrum does not bother Justice Levy. And neither does it seem to bother him that not one Palestinian was consulted in the process. The self-interest argument that Israel's survivability depends on the creation of a Palestinian state does not take into consideration that, regardless of whether the majority of Israelis believe it to be in Israel's best long-term interest, there is a Palestinian right to self-determination in an independent state of Palestine. The Levy committee appears to be interested in neither Israeli self interests nor Palestinian rights. It is interested in land.
Should the Attorney General of Israel choose to accept the findings of the Levy report the settlers will have won in the short-term. It will pave the way for mass legalization of settlements in the greater land of Israel. But the long-term sacrifice will be great. For Israel will pay for the land with not just democracy according to a demographic reality, but the Jewish ideals of democracy and justice on which the state of Israel was built, that recognize and respect the rights of all human beings. And that sacrifice will be made by Jews around the world, not just those in the state.
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