Mobile homes at the West Bank settlement outpost Ramat Gilad.
Mobile homes at the West Bank outpost Ramat Gilad. Photo by Alon Ron
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Senior legal sources said Monday that they expected Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein to reject a report asserting that Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank is legal.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday asked Weinstein for a legal opinion on the report by the Levy Committee, which concluded that Israel isn't an occupying force in the West Bank.

Haaretz reported earlier that the committee, headed by former Supreme Court Vice President Edmond Levy, had submitted a report to Netanyahu some two and a half weeks earlier, asserting that Israel's presence in the West Bank is not an occupation, and therefore international laws of military occupation do not apply to the territory.

The Levy committee was appointed in January to address the issue of illegal settlement outposts in the West Bank, in response to pressure from Israeli settlers.

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein perceived the decision to set up the committee as a move to subvert his authority, and fought against its appointment. He also let it be known that he would not be obligated by its findings. Now that those findings have been submitted, they will require his approval.  

Legal sources familiar with the details of the report said Monday they expected Weinstein to reject its recommendations, which contradict Supreme Court rulings that the laws of occupation do apply in the West Bank.

According to a senior legal source involved in the issue, the report's recommendations would cause problems for Israel in the international arena, including legal problems, and isolate it diplomatically.

According to the source, there is a consensus among the international legal community that the international laws of occupation apply to the West Bank, and the International Court of Justice at The Hague has previously ruled that Israel's settlements there are illegal.

"The position that the laws of occupation do not apply in the territories is ridiculous and has no basis in reality... It will make Israel look ridiculous, and it's difficult to believe that Weinstein would allow that to happen," the source said.

Professor Ruby Seibel, an expert on international law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem who served in the past as the Foreign Ministry's legal advisor, told Haaretz that the report attempts to undermine the right of the previous sovereign in the West Bank, Jordan, to rule the territory.

"The report does not attempt to deal with the Palestinian issue, but with Jordan's rights to the territory, which are irrelevant today. The report says that the laws of occupation do not apply to Judea and Samaria, but does not attempt to determine what does apply. One must understand that Israel's governments have all avoided extending Israeli law to Judea and Samaria due to policy reasons," he said, referring to the West Bank.   

"If the laws of occupation do not apply, and Israeli law does not apply, a vacuum is created. Therefore, since 1967 [Israel's] governments have determined that, despite the problematic nature of accepting that this is occupied territory, we will apply the laws of occupation so that a vacuum is not created. This was determined by all of the attorneys general," he said.  

Seibel added that the report did not give expression to the prevailing position in the world regarding the legal standing of the territories. "The whole world, including the United States, is of the opinion that the laws of occupation apply to the [Palestinian] territories. Perhaps everyone is wrong, but they are obliged to note this in the report," said Siebel.  

Meanwhile, MK Tzipi Hotovely is preparing to submit a bill to the Knesset that would enshrine the Levy committee's recommendations in Israeli law.

The bill would give the prime minister the power to authorize the defense minister or any other minister to order registration and regularization of land rights in the West Bank. It would also set up a special court for settling issues of land ownership there.

"The People of Israel is not an occupier in the Land of Israel," Hotovely told Haaretz. "The Knesset must approve the report's conclusions, set up an Israeli land registry in Judea and Samaria, set up a court of law for discussing land issues in Judea and Samaria and apply Israeli planning and construction laws in these areas." 

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