x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Palestinians accuse Israel of annexing the West Bank

The Israeli prime minister will accept parts of the controversial Levy Report, which recommends legalising dozens of unauthorised settler outposts on Palestinian territory.

JERUSALEM // Palestinians yesterday accused Benjamin Netanyahu of planning to annex the West Bank.

The Israeli prime minister will accept parts of the controversial Levy Report, which recommends legalising dozens of unauthorised settler outposts, Israel Radio said.

The 89-page legal document also rejects international recognition of Israel as a military occupying power of the West Bank, which the Palestinians want to form an independent state along with the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.

Mr Netanyahu's agreement with the report is further confirmation that Israel is imposing a "de facto apartheid reality" in the West Bank, Xavier Abu Eid, senior adviser to the Palestine Liberation Organisation's negotiations affairs department, which handles peace talks with Israel, said yesterday.

"What they're doing on the ground is turning occupation into annexation," he said.

The Levy Report - named after Edmund Levy, a former Israeli Supreme Court justice and head of the committee that issued it - was published in July, and shelved by Mr Netanyahu after it received withering criticism from both Palestinians and liberal Jews in Israel and the United States.

Its sudden embrace by the Israeli leader may be an attempt to placate allies in his pro-settler government before general elections in January.

The report suggests legalising more than 100 Jewish outposts in the West Bank that settlers built without formal government approval between 1991 and 2005. It also rejects international legal consensus over Israel's status in the West Bank, arguing that it was not an occupying power and therefore international law did not apply to construction and expansion of settlements in the territory.

Under the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits countries from transferring citizens on to land captured during war, the international community considers all Israeli settlements illegal. Israel, the only country to dispute this, captured the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem during the Arab-Israeli war of 1967 and began settling the areas with Jews.

Yesterday's Israel Radio report did not specify which elements of the Levy Report Mr Netanyahu would accept.

But the Israeli Haaretz newspaper quoted an unnamed cabinet official as saying only "practical parts" would be taken into consideration, specifically issues pertaining to building procedures and facilitating settler purchases of land.

Those that dealt directly with whether Israel should be considered an occupying power would not be adopted by Mr Netanyahu's cabinet, the newspaper reported, adding that the Israeli leader had come under mounting pressure by allies in his right-wing Likud party to adopt the Levy Report.

A growing number of prominent voices on either side of the Israel-Palestinian divide have been warning that an independent Palestinian state may no longer be feasible because of the extent of settlers, who now number over half a million between the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which Israel annexed in a move also not recognised by the international community.

Since Mr Netanyahu was elected more than three years ago, the population of Jewish settlers in the West Bank grew by 18 per cent, an increase of tens of thousands.

Israel's transport minister and Likud party member Yisrael Katz welcomed the decision as "a clear message affirming the right of Jews to settle in Judaea and Samaria".

He rejected, however, claims that Israel intended to annex the entire area, and said there was no "intention of annexing the Palestinian population".

Israel's defence minister, Ehud Barak, criticised the decision, and warned that it could isolate Israel internationally and therefore "must be avoided".

"Adoption of the report would not strengthen settlement in Judaea and Samaria but would cause political damage to Israel and a deepening of its isolation within the world," he said.

hnaylor@thenational.ae

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* Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse and the Associated Press