Yesh Din’s new position paper describes how the Government of Israel (GOI) unofficially adopted the Levy Report and is working towards implementing its recommendations and legal doctrine. The position paper demonstrates how over the past three and a half years the GOI has been gradually absolving itself of its duty to act within international law, and extricating itself from its duty to protect the property of the protected Palestinian population. This is a policy of de-facto annexation, while Israel refrains from officially annexing the West Bank, a step which would require granting Palestinian residents of the West Bank citizenship and equal rights.
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In the summer of 2012, the Levy Committee published its report, in which it found that the West Bank was not occupied territory and found no legal impediment to building Israeli settlements there. Based on this finding, the Levy Committee made a number of recommendations for retroactively authorizing all illegal construction in the Israeli outposts and further establishing and expanding the Israeli settlement enterprise.
Although the Levy Report was never officially adopted by the Israeli Government, during the years since it was filed, there is a discernible process of adoption of the report’s “No-Occupation” doctrine and the implementation of several of its recommendations by the government and the authorities that work under it. One of the steps taken to adopt Levy’s legal doctrine is the requirement that all Israeli diplomatic missions abroad post a document issued in late 2015 by the Israeli Ministry of Affairs, indicating Israel’s official position that legally, the West Bank is not occupied territory. The document also presents Israel’s position that Israeli settlements in the West Bank are legal, and do not violate international and Israeli law.
The adoption of the Levy Committee’s legal doctrine is also evident in the marked increase in the involvement of the Ministry of Justice in matters concerning the legal status of outposts and settlements in the West Bank. This involvement is clearly reflected in the change in the State’s recent responses to High Court petitions dealing with illegal construction and evacuations of unauthorized outposts, and the declared intention to authorize outposts that the state admits were built illegally.
The GOI is also focusing on creating the conditions necessary to ensure legal feasibility for retroactively authorizing the outposts, including illegal construction on privately owned Palestinian land. Among the steps taken to achieve this goal is the attempt to establish a military land tribunal that would rule on land disputes and the establishing of the land regulation committee, that is meant to outline a process for the legalization of Israeli structures and neighborhoods in the West Bank. The GOI is also attempting to advance the land regulation (‘hasdara’) bill, and push legislation through the Knesset that would grant the State powers to compel Palestinian landowners to enter into compensation arrangements that would force them to waive their rights to their land.
The most significant practical manifestation of the Levy Report’s implementation is the upswing in the retroactive authorization of outposts seen in recent years. Nearly 30 outposts have already been authorized or are undergoing authorization. Many of these outposts were built entirely or partly on privately owned Palestinian land. In some cases, their authorization involves theft of private Palestinian property and its transfer to individuals who illegally invaded their lands, often using violence to achieve their goal.
The position paper includes several recommendations designed to ensure that the GOI complies with the provisions of international law which stipulate that the occupation must remain temporary in nature and must refrain from making irreversible long-term changes in the occupied territory.
These recommendations include:
- The GOI must refrain from supporting or promoting primary legislation that would be applied in the occupied territory.
- The Attorney General must take action to prevent the introduction of an Israeli judicial instance with power to rule on matters pertaining to land in the West Bank.
- The Attorney General must take action to prevent the promotion of legislation or other arrangements designed for confiscating privately owned land from Palestinians and forcing Palestinian landowners to waive their property rights in order to retroactively authorize illegal construction in Israeli settlements and outposts.
- The Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Defense must prevent the establishment of new Israeli settlements and the retroactive authorization of outposts that violate Palestinians’ property rights and are in contravention of international law.
- The Minister of Defense must instruct all official agencies operating in the West Bank to comply with the provisions of international law, which forbid the use of land seized for urgent, imperative military needs for any other purpose.