Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has decided to bury the Levy Report, which recommends legalizing most unauthorized settlement outposts in the West Bank and making it easier for existing settlements to expand, a senior politician who spoke with the premier about the issue told Haaretz yesterday.
Since the Levy Report was submitted, on June 21, Netanyahu has made great efforts to downplay its conclusions. Officials in Netanyahu's inner circle told several cabinet ministers that the main problem was the report's finding that the Fourth Geneva Convention, which governs the treatment of occupied territory, does not apply to the West Bank because the West Bank is not in fact occupied territory.
Officially Israel has always held that the Geneva Convention does not apply to the West Bank, although it has pledged to honor the document's humanitarian provisions. But Netanyahu fears that raising the issue now would generate a major international controversy.
On the other hand, adopting the rest of the Levy Report without adopting the section discussing whether the West Bank is occupied territory would be construed as a de facto admission that Israel is in fact an occupying power.
Yesterday Netanyahu convened the Ministerial Committee for Settlement Affairs to discuss various issues related to unauthorized settlement outposts. During the meeting ministers Daniel Hershkowitz and Gilad Erdan demanded a discussion of the Levy Report, but Netanyahu rejected this demand. In private conversations Netanyahu has told several ministers that there are more important issues on the agenda at present, both regarding the settlements and in other areas.
The ministerial committee also discussed Migron. The state must soon submit its response to a High Court of Justice petition by 17 families from the outpost who are seeking permission to remain in parts of the outpost that they claim were purchased from its Palestinian owners. Police are still investigating the legality of the purchase, but the ministers were briefed on the legal situation to date.
For instance, settlers purchased only a quarter of one plot, Lot 23, and according to the State Prosecutor's Office this makes the purchase meaningless. Another plot, Lot 2, was fully purchased, but because it has no access road it is effectively unusable.
Nevertheless the ministers decided the state would request a 90-day stay on a demolition order for Lot 10 while it continues investigating the land's status.
The panel also discussed a petition filed by Peace Now to remove settlers who have squatted in a building located in Hebron's wholesale market. The building was originally owned by Jews, but Jordan appropriated it as enemy property after conquering the West Bank in 1948 and then rented it out to Arab shopkeepers.
After Israel captured the area in 1967 the Israel Defense Forces continued to rent the building to these shopkeepers. When the second intifada erupted, in 2000, the IDF ordered the shops closed due to the deteriorating security situation. But it never revoked the renters' legal rights.
Settlers later took over the building and made it part of the Avraham Avinu neighborhood. An IDF appeals committee decided they should be evicted, but this never happened. Peace Now thus asked the High Court to enforce this decision.
The ministers decided the settlers should be evicted. But since the army, as the building's custodian, is supposed to improve and maintain it they also decided it should be rented to the Jewish community of Hebron, with the army holding the rent money in trust until the building is returned to the Palestinians. This position will now be presented to the court.
Finally, the panel decided to reverse a government decision to demolish two buildings under construction in Beit El's Dreinoff neighborhood. The buildings were built without the necessary permits, on land seized for military purposes, so the Yesh Din organization asked the High Court to order them razed.
Last year the government promised that the buildings would be demolished by April, but it has since requested numerous postponements. Now the committee has decided that Beit El should file a master plan to legalize the neighborhood, and until then the government will refrain from razing the buildings.
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