Israel: West Bank “Disputed Territory” not “Occupied Territory”
The Unbearable Confusion of an Undeclared War
In the early hours of Monday, December 3, 2012, the dust raised by Israel’s latest diplomatic bombs didn’t allow to see the details clearly. Israel’s Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon told settler’s Channel 7 that he is not aware of French and British plans to recall their ambassadors in Tel Aviv. The same source claimed that the British government summoned the Israeli Ambassador to London and warned him of a “strong reaction” to Israel’s decision to build 3,000 houses in E1, the territory connecting Jerusalem with Ma’aleh Adumim (see maps below). France took a similar path, warning the Israeli Ambassador in Paris. Sky News reported that Britain may recall its Israel ambassador, and possibly even freeze its trade agreements with Israel in retaliation for the construction. Israel’s largest newspaper, Yedioth Aharonot, claimed “diplomatic sources said both London and Paris were considering the unprecedented step of recalling their ambassadors to Tel Aviv, but both countries signaled there was still room for maneuver to avoid a deep crisis with Israel.” In a different article, the newspaper added that also Sweden had warned its Israeli Ambassador and that all these events had been coordinated by the USA. Shortly afterwards, UK’s Prime Minister Spokesman denied that his country was weighing such drastic measures. One is tempted to dismiss the whole event as being just a puff of hot air uttered by diplomats seeking headlines, but sadly this time the situation is different. Israel and Palestine go to war, and the world is reacting.
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The maps shows why this specific Israeli reaction to the UN acceptance of Palestine as an Observer State is perceived as so important. The plan to build these houses is a long-term one, it will take a decade for it to materialize, and thus is less weighty than the immediate financial steps reported yesterday. However, once finished, it will change the situation dramatically.
Look at the maps. On its left is Jerusalem; in its bottom right corner box, the Dead Sea can also be seen. Between the Jewish settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim and the Dead Sea, the terrain is too steep to allow large settlements. Sporadic monasteries dust the powdered ground; training soldiers walk carefully, trying not to sink in the grey dust, so fine that it behaves almost as a liquid. In sharp contrast, the terrain between Ma’aleh Adumim and Jerusalem houses several Palestinian towns. All the names in this area of the maps are Palestinian: Anata, Al-Zayam, ‘Izriyah, Abu Dis. E1 is the only unbuilt spot in the area. Once built, it will create Jewish contiguity between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea, where one of Israel’s main industrial centers is located. Once this is achieved, the West Bank will be effectively bisected, splitting the State of Palestine in three non-contiguous zones (Gaza would be the third).
Israel: West Bank “Disputed Territory” not “Occupied Territory”
To some extent, Israel’s decision is just hot air, as are the British and French threats. Houses are made of bricks. They can be assembled and disassembled. Despite the worrying implications of the event to peace, it must be considered exclusively as an Israeli bargaining chip. More worrying were a few additional words said by the Vice Prime Minister to Channel 7 in the abovementioned interview. Ya’alon added that the Cabinet (the Government’s main ministers, de facto Israel’s ruling forum) had adopted the Levy Report on Sunday, December 2, when it decided that Judea and Samaria will no longer be considered “occupied territory,” and instead be considered “disputed territory.” This adds to things said this earlier year by the Speaker of the Knesset. Reuven Rivlin proposed on October 30 the annexation of the West Bank without announcing it by a formal law, in contrast to the done with the Golan Heights.
The Levy Committee was headed by Supreme Court Justice (Ret.) Edmond Levy; he is the son of prominent Jewish-Iraqi Herut members and openly endorses the ideology of this party. Herut (Freedom) was the party led by Menachem Begin; it became Likud in 1973. Netanyahu’s government set up a committee led by one of its own, as an answer to the 2005 Sasson Report, which had ruled 120 settlements and outposts as illegal under Israeli law. Unlawfulness in the West Bank has various layers. The international community considers Israeli settlements in the West Bank illegal under international law, but the Israeli government disputes this. The international community considers Israeli settlements a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention’s prohibition on the transfer of an occupying power’s civilian population into occupied territory. Israel disputes that the Fourth Geneva Convention applies to the Palestinian territories as they had not been legally held by a sovereign prior to Israel taking control of them. Israel’s interpretation has been rejected by the International Court of Justice and the International Committee of the Red Cross. The vast majority of the West Bank settlements are in between these definitions; they are considered illegal by the entire world, but legal by the Israeli government. However, sometimes they are considered unlawful even by the Israeli government. The Edmond Levy Report recommended changing this.
The Levy Committee ruled that the State must devise ways to legalize contested settlements and outposts in the West Bank. It recommends easing land acquisition and zoning protocols for Jews residing in the area. This is crucial since many of the purchases are highly questionable. For example, in Migron, most of the land occupied by the outpost belongs to several Palestinian families living in the nearby villages of Burqa and Deir Dibwan. The Associated Press discovered in 2008 that Abd Allatif Hassan Sumarin, who supposedly sold a plot of land to the Binyamin Regional Council owned Al Wattan Ltd in 2004, had been dead since 1961. A regime sanctioning such crimes renders itself illegitimate; until now nothing was done with the report since implementing it means the annexation of the West Bank by Israel.
Yet, the Speaker of the Knesset said at the abovementioned opportunity that the report should not be officially adopted “because then we will bring the others [the international community] to stand up against us and demand not only the annulment of the report but also the dismantlement of the settlements.” This is an intriguing approach for a lawyer, especially considering the troubling way he continued his argumentation. “It will be correct for the government to look at the report and act according to it, without officially adopting it or announcing this to the people and the world.” Rivlin also explained why Netanyahu didn’t sign the report: “The Israeli government is in a tough position between holding the Entire Land of Israel ideology and pressures from abroad.”
Following the UN decision, Netanyahu decided to implement the recommendations though unofficially, blocking legal ways of opposing it. Israel had annexed the West Bank; it doesn’t consider it an “occupied territory” anymore. Hiding behind an unbearable silence, the State of Israel has declared war on the State of Palestine.