x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Israel ignores decades of Occupation

The Levy Committee report is proof that Benjamin Netanyahu has little interest in a two-state solution. But the outcome also has far-reaching consequences for Israel itself.

The latest news out of Israel will come as a surprise to both students of international law and the world in general: according to Israeli officials, apparently, the illegal occupation of the West Bank is neither illegal, nor an occupation.

That appears to be the ludicrous conclusion of the Levy Committee, set-up by the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to explore the status of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

The committee concluded that because the West Bank has been under Israeli occupation for decades (and, wrote the committee, "it is impossible to foresee a time when Israel will relinquish these territories"), the government should simply legalise all settlements and incorporate them into Israel. It based this on a shaky reading of international law: that because the legal concept of occupation was meant to apply to short periods of time during a dispute between two sides, it cannot apply to such a long-running situation.

It is easy to dismiss the report as excessively politically motivated - its chief aim appears to be to pre-empt a United Nations probe into the West Bank settlements, with which Israel has refused to co-operate.

If the recommendations of the report are implemented, it would legalise the land theft across the West Bank - extend it, in fact, because it would seize the entire territory, not merely the land on which the illegal settlements are built.

The committee's report is proof that Mr Netanyahu has little interest in a two-state solution. But that outcome would also have far reaching consequences for Israel itself: A natural consequence of assuming all the Palestinian land in the West Bank belongs to Israel would be to also accept that all the Palestinians currently in the West Bank are Israeli: essentially changing the demographic face of Israel. That is not something the Israeli right wants: it does not want the Palestinians, merely the ground beneath their feet.

Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank is now well into its fifth decade and remains the chief reason for its estrangement from the international community and its neighbours. Instead of searching for spurious legal reasons to continue the Occupation, Israel should be looking for the political will to make peace.