Netanyahu gov’t is implementing annexation of West Bank as secret but official policy

Israel/Palestine
on 5 Comments

Last month we at Yesh Din published our new position paper, “From Occupation to Annexation,” which deals with the way the Israeli government is implementing the conclusions of the Levy Commission Report without any public debate or even an official government decision – an implementation which is dragging Israel into de facto annexation of the West Bank, one that does not grant the annexed their rights.

First, we must distinguish between annexation and occupation. International law recognizes the legitimacy of an occupation, i.e. a state in which one power occupies a territory where a local population lives. But the assumption of international law is that occupation is a temporary affair; the occupier is considered to be a trustee who maintains what he has conquered until the conflict is over. Furthermore, the occupier is not allowed to make long-term changes in the region. An annexation is a one-sided takeover by a state of a territory by use of force or threats of it, and is impermissible under international law – a part of the lessons of the Second World War on which so much of international law is built on.

Our position paper does not deal with the Levy Report itself (to which we dedicated a whole report of our own) but with its implementation. Nevertheless, we must say a word about the report itself: it is nothing less than a revolution in the how the State of Israel has come to regard the occupied Palestinian territories. According to the report, the state’s legal position is that the occupied Palestinian Territories are not occupied, since they were promised to the Jewish people by the British Mandate.

The Israeli government never officially adopted the Levy Report. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed Levy (former minister Silvan Shalom noted the PM knew precisely why he was appointing him) but never dared to officially adopt his document. Why? To begin with, the present situation of occupation is actually good for Israel. It confers partial legal legitimacy to its military presence (not its civilian presence) in the West Bank. If the West Bank is not occupied, then the situation looks suspiciously like annexation. And as we noted earlier, annexation is prohibited.

Secondly, no one in the world would accept the legitimacy of Israeli control that leaves Palestinians devoid of rights. An official adoption of the Levy Report would be a hasbara catastrophe; no one in the world would accept the Israeli claim that nearly 50 years of military control is not an occupation.

But even though the government never officially adopted the report, it effectively began implementing it. On the legal front, the Foreign Ministry published a document in late 2015 that adopts the spirit of the Levy Report. According to the document, Israel has a right to build settlements, based on the British Mandate charter. This claim became part of the Foreign Office Cadet Training Program and was distributed to all Israeli delegations in the world, accompanied by a directive saying this is the Israeli position and that it should be translated and published on the website of every delegation.

The Justice Ministry also adopted the spirit of the Levy Report and its position vis-à-vis the legality of the illegal construction in the settlements and outposts, particularly when it relates to the possibility of future legalization.

At the same time, on the more practical (if long-term) side, the Justice Ministry began carrying out one of the report’s recommendation and on started on creating a new court that would deal exclusively with issues related to land in the West Bank. This court will only include Israeli judges, as it will likely be a military court. The meaning for a Palestinian who wants to protect his property will be clear: don’t waste your time. Palestinian trust in the Israeli military courts is already low and is in decline.

But the more immediate aspect of the Levy Report, which was also noted by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, is the retroactive legalization (in Hebrew, “kosherization” – turning something impure into something kosher) of the illegal outposts in the West Bank. Some 80 out of around 100 outposts are built, at least partially, on private Palestinian land. As such they are illegal intruders, and in addition most of the buildings have been served with demolition orders due to illegal construction. Until recent years the government did not bother to enforce its own orders, telling the courts that the buildings are in fact illegal and that they would be demolished at some future date, and according to its own preferences. This happened only in the relatively few cases in which an appeal was filed against the illegal construction. As for illegal construction that did not make it to the courts?  The government had no plan of doing anything about it.

The government has changed its position since the report was published: now it tells the courts, time and again, that those same outposts are intended for legalization. True, even in the past the government delayed the evacuation until the arrival of the messiah, but at least it stated its intent to evacuate them. Not any more.

In order to legalize the outposts, the Netanyahu government has taken two main steps. In July 2015, Netanyahu ordered the creation of a “re-organizing committee” — a governmental team whose goal is the purification of the impure through “re-organizing” the legal situation vis-à-vis land, thus granting a legal cover for the outposts. This team is supposed to finish its work in the coming weeks. Needless to say, changing the rules in order to create settlements in the West Bank is a violation of international law. But international law is for the gentiles — we have the Balfour Declaration.

The second tool used by the Netanyahu government is the “re-ordering law.” This law is supposed to force the Palestinian owners of land to accept compensation for giving up their legal rights to the land they own, so as to prevent the evacuation of outposts and illegal structures. The Netanyahu government believes in private property, unless the person in question is Palestinian. The “re-organizing” law is an attempt to turn the Levy Report into legislation. The bill, as presented by MK Yoav Kish, specifically names four settlements and outposts whose evacuation or partial evacuation was ordered by the High Court of Justice. Such a law, were it to pass, would lead to land confiscation not intended for pressing military needs – an act prohibited by international law. In addition, the law itself is a declaration by the Knesset it has the right to pass legislation regarding the West Bank — a symptom of annexation. It is an acceptance of the Levy Report’s position that the laws of occupation are invalid in the West Bank, and that the territory is under the sovereignty of the Knesset.

Beyond all these tricks, whose purpose is to prevent the evacuation of Israeli land invaders, the government is busily working on enlarging the pool of state land, in a way that will permit the enlargement and legalization of outposts. This is done under the so-called “blue line team” – a team whose duty is to examine and fine-tune the borders of land that had previously been turned into “state land.” Between 2012 and 2015, state land in the West Bank grew by 63,771 dunams; state land is not allocated to the Palestinian communities in the occupied territory, as might be expected of an occupying force that obeys its legal obligations. Instead, most of it goes to the settlements and outposts. According to the data supplied by the government, the Civil Administration allocated only 7% of state land for Palestinian use.

And these are only a few of the examples presented in our position paper. When it comes to dispossessing Palestinians of their land, the Netanyahu government and its jurists are showing impressive creativity. The final result of all these processes is the creeping, de-facto annexation of large swaths of the West Bank. Beyond the fact that this is in direct contravention of international law, it is all happening without the government allowing public debate. After all, it’s taking place behind closed doors by committees whose work is anything but transparent or exposed to public criticism. Most of the time we only hear of them after they have made their decision.

Contrary to what is often said, the Netanyahu government does have a policy in the West Bank. It simply prefers you won’t hear of it. So here it is, before you.

In recent weeks Yesh Din published a report on the de facto annexation of the West Bank, and Yossi Gurvitz, followed that up with the analysis above, originally titled, “Shhh, we’re annexing.” Yesh Din gave us permission to republish.

5 Responses

  1. Boomer
    March 5, 2016, 7:09 am

    Interesting, though hardly a surprise. Lots of gems here. For example:

    re: “. . . the occupied Palestinian Territories are not occupied, since they were promised to the Jewish people by the British Mandate.”

    and “. . . international law is for the gentiles — we have the Balfour Declaration.”

    I thought that the Zionist position always was that the lands were not “occupied” because they belonged to Jews, because God gave it to them. I guess these days more people believe in the story about the magical British Mandate and the Almighty Balfour than in Iron Age myths. Whatever works.

    • Sibiriak
      March 5, 2016, 8:41 am

      Boomer: thought that the Zionist position always was that the lands were not “occupied” because they belonged to Jews, because God gave it to them.
      ———–

      No doubt the notion of the Biblical Promised Land lurks behind most Zionist territorial claims, but the secular Zionist leaders tended to cast it in terms of a forced exile/right to return–I right that was never given up for thousands of years– along with the idea that the local population would not be harmed.

      Ben-Gurion’s testimony before the U.N. Special Committee on Palestine (prior to the partition resolution) is representative of this line of argument.

      The Balfour Declaration is seen as a recognition of the Jewish right to the land, not the basis for it.

      Sir ABDUR RAHMAN (India): My question is a simple one. I have put to him that his statement before the Anglo-American Committee and the statement which he made here led me to think that he does not base the right of the Jews to Palestine on what has come to be known as the Balfour Declaration. Have I understood his position correctly or not.

      Mr. BEN GURION: Not correctly. What I said was that the Jewish right to Palestine was prior to the Balfour Declaration. I do not think that is the same thing. Our right was existing for 3,500 years. The Balfour Declaration was merely a recognition by a Great Power of that right. The right existed before. That is what I said, and I maintain it now.

      ————————

      Prior to that, Ben-Gurion gave this extended explanation of an alleged unique .Jewish claim to the land. I’ll leave it to you to enumerate all the factual errors and logical fallacies involved–and the outright vicious lies — if you wish.

      CHAIRMAN: Now, let us return to the Arab claim. You know well the Arab claim and the basis for it?

      Mr. BEN GURION: Yes.

      CHAIRMAN: It can be expressed very shortly. It is a claim based on the possession of the land for a considerable period of time and the right of self-government of the people of the land. What is your answer to this claim?

      Mr. BEN GURION: My answer to that claim is the answer which was given not only by us but by human conscience almost in the whole world. The same claim was made almost twenty-five years ago. The reply was that you cannot judgethis country which has a special history and special conditions which cannot be found anywhere else, and the relations of the Jews of this country cannot be judged by a rule applied to other countries not having the same unique conditions. Really, it is a unique case. You have first of all the people who were here a very, very long time ago; you know that.

      I can give you the Arab case. I understand the Arab case and I fully realize it. It is very simple. They state they do not care what happened, and nobody ought to care what happened fifteen hundred or two thousand years ago. We are here. We are not here from yesterday; we were here for centuries. We are the majority, and we have a right to self-determination. We will decide, just as the people in the United States or the people in Canada, whether to allow or not to allow immigrants. The fact that Jews were here some two thousand years ago is the same as the Roman legions having been in England some two thousand years ago, or when Arabs were in Spain fourteen or so many centuries ago.

      That is their claim. It is simple. Not one but many nations in the world did not accept that claim because they were faced with a unique case which is not as simple as that.

      You cannot compare it with Spain and the Arabs. Can you find a single Arab in the world who cares to go back to Spain? Can you find a single Arab in the world who will spend a penny for Spain? Can you find a single Arab in the world who dreams of Spain? What has he to do with Spain? He has his own country.

      Many kinds of people come from many countries, but here you have a unique case without any parallel in history. Here is a people who for many centuries were dreaming of this country. They might have found a country anywhere else, but no, and they never gave up their claim. It is unique.

      Also, the case of Palestine is unique. It is not the same.

      We did not say it alone, but the entire civilized world said that while the Arabs were liberated in various territories there was room for the Jews in Palestine. The Jews are connected with this country. We recognize their connexion. They are coming back. They have a right to come back. They put only one limitation. We, ourselves, would have put this limitation if it had not been put by others: not to displace the population right here. I do not know if I have to go into that again.

      That was the decision. What happened? Nothing happened. Did it prove the Jews do not need a home? Did it prove that Jews cannot build? Was it proven that we can come in only by displacing Arabs?. Everything that happened since that world decision strengthened that decision. The need of the Jews, their ability to come back, AND THEIR NOT DISPLACING (I do not-want to bring in the point that we are benefiting anyone we are, but not because of that), these three things were proven even more than they were known twenty-five years ago.

      Now, I return to the question: what reason have you, not you the Commission, but what reason has world conscience to reverse that decision? There is only one reason that the people here say “No, we will not let those Jews come back.” The same thing happened in many countries. In certain countries the Government submitted that, and I do not want to mention the names of those countries. There are Jews who were dispossessed by Hitler. I do not speak of Germany, but countries that suffered from Hitler. When the Jews were dispossessed, very few, because the majority were murdered, came back and claimed their possessions. They did not get them back for the simple reason that the countries were occupied and did not want to give them back. That was the only reason.

      But this case is not similar to that because then the Jews had three or four rooms and, in the meantime, somebody else occupied all the three rooms. Here we have a case where there is a large building and three rooms are occupied, eleven rooms are not occupied, and we say, “Stay in your three rooms, we are going to occupy the other eight UNOCCUPIED rooms.” He says, “No, we don’t want it. Stay out.” The world has said “No,” and we say there is no reason why you should reverse that decision, because justice and the necessity are the same, if not stronger. There is no reason whatsoever. The only reason is that those who undertook to do it failed to do it.

      CHAIRMAN: You think the fact that a claim to a country has not been given up is so essential? ?

      Mr. BEN GURION: Our claim?

      CHAIRMAN: Yes.

      Mr. BEN GURION: It is very. Of course, if we are invaders, then we have no right.

      CHAIRMAN: And you do not think that a thousand year’s possession is enough to oust the claim?

      Mr. BEN GURION: Sir, I do not lay down general rules. I say on this occasion, under this historic and geographic position, no it is not, for the reasons which I gave in my address. It is not a question of the Arab race; they are fully liberated. It is not a question of the Arab individuals who are here; they are not suffering. Our claim stands; we did not give it up.

      [emphasis added]

      • Boomer
        March 6, 2016, 3:48 pm

        Thanks much, Sibiriak, for the historical information regarding the “. . . alleged unique .Jewish claim to the land.” You say, “I’ll leave it to you to enumerate all the factual errors and logical fallacies involved–and the outright vicious lies — if you wish.” I’ll pass on that. I think the errors and fallacies and racist attitudes speak for themselves.

        From a historical perspective, one may make some allowance for the context in which they were originally spoken (as one may consider the context when, for example, judging Thomas Jefferson’s actions regarding slavery), but as we know, and as the Yesh Din report shows, it isn’t just a matter of history.

  2. James Canning
    March 5, 2016, 1:25 pm

    Many Israeli leaders appear to think Israel can “annex” areas by building illegal colonies of Jews in those areas. And foolish American politicians encourage this point of view.

  3. ahadhaadam
    March 7, 2016, 8:04 am

    I don’t see anything new here. This has been Israeli policy long before Netanyahu’s government. The other governments, left and right alike, were just better at pretending that this was a “temporary” occupation and that they were “negotiating for peace” while at the same time entrenching the de-facto annexation and apartheid in the occupied territories, just like Netanyahu does.

    With Netanyahu at least there are no pretenses, except for a few feeble declarations of “two states” that neither he, nor his own party believes, and is universally understood by everyone as lip service to the world community.

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