Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu (Likud) announced his intention on Monday to discuss and decide upon the findings of the Edmund Levi Report with the new ministerial committee recently established to deal with Jewish issues in Israel’s disputed heartland.
The 89-page report was submitted to the ministerial committee on Sunday.
“This report addresses the question of the legality and legitimacy of Jewish communities in Judea and Sumaria on the basis of facts and claims that must be seriously examined,” Netanyahu said, praising the committee for its “serious work.”
The panel, composed of former Supreme Court Justice Edmund Levi, former Foreign Ministry legal adviser Alan Baker and former Tel Aviv District Court deputy president Tehiya Shapira, was officially established by Netanyahu in late January.
To date, the only similar report commissioned by the Prime Minister’s Office, was completed in 2005 by private attorney Talia Sasson at the behest of Ariel Sharon.
It is expected that this new report would address some of the criticism of the Sasson Report’s alleged political biases, specifically its classification of private Palestinian property.
Because several Israeli officials have over the years pointed to Sasson’s association with the European-backed Meretz party as having greatly harmed the legitimacy of her report, the government deemed it necessary that a wider and more objective legal panel explore this issue.
The Sasson Report’s classification of much land in the disputed territories as belonging to Palestinians is largely based on the argument that in the early 1960s, Jordan’s King Hussein rewarded Mukhtars loyal to his regime with properties in the Israeli heartland which had been under Jordanian occupation from 1949 until the 1967 Six-Day War.
Although Hussein’s gifts were dependent on the Mukhtars working and paying taxes on the lands and although neither international law nor even Jordanian law currently recognizes the rights of those Mukhtars or their descendants to the land in question, Sasson used the royal gifts to classify most of what was previously understood to be Israeli state land as private land owned by the absentee descendants of these Mukhtars.
Israel’s Supreme Court has relied on the Sasson Report to rule in favor of local political organizations funded by the European Union demanding that the Jewish homes on these lands be destroyed.
Public Diplomacy Minister Yuli Edelstein (Likud) praised the report’s findings on Monday, calling for the government to adopt it as official policy.
“As a resident of a Judean town and the public diplomacy minister who fights to express the natural right to live [there] and not apologize for it, I welcome the committee’s findings,” Edelstein said. “However, the real test is the report’s adoption.”
Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud) called for Netanyahu to call the committee to discuss the report.
“I will work to ensure the government adopts the report’s conclusion and give a clear future and stability for tens of thousands of families after dozens of years,” Erdan said. “Finally, legal and historic justice has been done, following the twister political stances based on the Meretz activist Talia Sasson’s report.”
Erdan added that he will demand that the Attorney-General’s Office’s responses to legal issues involving endangered Jewish communities from now on be based on the Edmund Levi Report.
Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Shas) also praised the report, saying “the time has come to fix the injustice of the Talia Sasson Report and say openly that Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria do not contradict the law, and complement the spirit of Zionism and Judaism.”
Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz (Jewish Home) called on Netanyahu to immediately convene the committee to adopt the report, which “proves the Sasson report was political from the start to the end.”
The Attorney-General’s offices should view the Levi Report as a guide and not veer from it, Hershkowitz added.
Yariv Oppenheimer of the EU-funded Peace Now organization slammed the report on Monday, ridiculing its findings and recommendations.
“No jurist in the world would refer to this political manifesto as a serious report,” Channel 10 reported Oppenheimer as saying.
Michael Sfard, attorney for both Peace Now and Yesh Din, also slammed the report, saying the Levi committee was “born in sin.”
Sfard said that the committee was founded in order to “authorize crime” and that it fulfilled its task.
“It is not a legal report but an ideological report that ignores basic principles of the rule of law,” he said.
“It seems as though the committee members fell down the rabbit hole, and their report was written in Wonderland where the law of the absurd rules – there is no occupation, no illegal outposts and seemingly no Palestinian state. It must be said in the language of Alice [in Wonderland]: This is the most stupid tea party I’ve seen in my life.”
Alternative peace activist Yehuda HaKohen spoke to Indy News Israel on Monday and expressed a more nuanced perspective, calling reactions to the report “a perfect example of competing narratives simultaneously coexisting.”
“On the one hand, the committee’s findings are correct in that the Jewish nation has a legitimate claim to sovereignty over the Judea and Samaria regions, which from a legal and historic perspective are not only intrinsic parts of the Jewish homeland but also the cradle of Jewish civilization. It would therefore be grossly inaccurate to refer to an Israeli presence in these regions as an ‘occupation’ as that term implies these territories to lie beyond Israel’s legitimate borders.”
“Yet at the same time,” he continued, “Its true that there are millions of Palestinians living in these territories under a military bureaucracy that forces them to endure humiliating checkpoints and intrusive walls while severely limiting their freedom of movement on a daily basis. From this perspective, an ‘occupation’ very much exists and those claiming – based on the Jewish people’s legal and historic right to the territories – that there is no ‘occupation’ sound foolish at best.”
HaKohen argued that “both narratives are equally valid and so long as they seek to negate or eclipse one another, both peoples will continue to suffer.”
“Even if one narrative were to finally win out over the other, it would lead to injustice for at least one of us.”
“The sad truth is that Israel’s military occupation of the ‘West Bank’ actually undermines the Jewish people’s legitimate right to Judea and Samaria. The Jews in Judea are not the Americans in Afghanistan. We don’t occupy some foreign people’s homeland. The problem is that many of our political and military leaders behave like the Americans in Afghanistan, bestowing credibility on claims we don’t belong in our own country.”
“The bottom line,” he concluded, “Is that in order for both peoples to achieve justice without creating any new injustices for either of us, we need to collectively arrive at a larger narrative big enough to encompass both seemingly rival narratives.”