The Meaning of the Recommendations of the Edmond Levi Committee
The Edmond Levy Committee appointed by the government on the subject of outposts, completed its work and its report was published today in the media. The report accepts many arguments brought by settlers regarding the legal situation in the settlements and is expected to be used widely by the settlers at the political debate and maybe also in courts. However, the main significance of the report is political, since it has no binding effect and is considered as recommendations.
A. The Committee’s Authority
The government has appointed Edmond Levy, Supreme Court judge (retired), District Court Judge Techia Shapiro (retired) and former Foreign Affairs Legal Advisor, Mr. Alan Baker (Adv) – to the committee. According to the Israeli law, only the Attorney General is authorized to interpret the law for the government especially concerning issues of enforcement of the law. The government has no authority to establish a committee that will override the legally binding recommendations of the attorney general. Therefore, the Committee’s authority is – as stipulated in the appointment – to prepare advisory recommendations, but these are not binding the government or the Attorney General.
As mentioned, the principal significance of the Committee’s report is political, and it can validate the settlers’ claims, claims that now receive a formal status in a respectable committee that have been appointed by the government. The committee did not have any authority to discuss cases that are under court hearings, and the recommendations are not going to be valid for any of the cases of Migron or the Ulpana. However, it will surely be used in the political debate and maybe in future responses of the government to the court.
B. Key recommendations of the Committee
1. According to the Levi Committee there is no occupation and the settlements are legal – much of the Committee’s report considered the question of the legality of settlements in the territories. The committee chose to argue that the settlements are legal. It claimed that the provisions in the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibiting an occupying power to transfer its population into invaded territories, do not apply in the occupied territories. According to the committee, in 1967 when the occupation by Israel occurred, the territories were held under Jordanian rule, and were not part of any acknowledged country – therefore the Israeli rule of the territories is not considered as occupation.
In the early ’90s, when “Peace Now” brought the matter of the legality of the settlements to the High Court – the Supreme Court ruled that the issue was not justifiable, and it was not in power of the court to determine the legality of the settlements but it is within the authority of the government. However, practically speaking, Israel continues to maintain a policy of settlement during all these years, even without determining whether it is an occupation in the legal sense of the word.
The committee’s position, however determined, is not accepted by most jurists around the world, and was not accepted by the Israeli Supreme Court. It ignores the many different elements that exist in the occupation. For example, the Committee did not deal with the question of the status of Palestinians in the territories, and how to justify their being denied civil rights if it was not an occupied territory.
2. The Committee recommends legalizing the outposts – The Committee claims that the government should, and sometimes even must legalize the outposts. The fact that the Israeli government supported the outposts financially and never enforced the law against them was as if the government had promised the settlers that it was legal. The Levi Committee determined that the real true will of the Israeli government was to establish the outposts, although it was done illegally, and thus, the government is obliged to fulfill the promise and legalize the outposts.
Legalizing outposts on State Land
1. There is no need for a decision by the government to establish a new settlement
2. There is no need for an approval by the Minister of Defense for new planning
According to the Levi Committee, in cases where outposts were built on State Land within municipal borders of settlements, there is no need for a decision by the government announcing the establishment of the new settlement. Moreover, there is not even a need for an approval by the Minister of Defense for the new plan.
The Meaning: Practically, the situation today is that the government can legalize outposts and does not need any committee for that. Recently the government legalized three outposts (Bruchin, Rechelim and Sansana). The Israeli government had also legalized outposts without an official government decision, in Givat Habrecha (the Pool Hill) and Shvut Rachel, where the government claimed that the outposts are approved as neighborhoods of existing settlements (Talmon and Shilo respectively).
However, the recommendation regarding the planning is much more significant: The meaning would be that the Civil Administration and the settlements’ localities will be able to allow unlimited amount of plans in settlements without any political body to approve it. This would grant the keys to the development of the settlements in the hands of the settlers themselves.
3. Construction on Private Lands
Construction on private Palestinian land is prohibited, but in some cases might stay on the ground – the committee does not approve any construction on private Palestinian land. However, in cases where the construction already took place, the committee claims that there should be other possibilities rather than removal to be considered, such as compensations or alternative land to be granted to the owners.
The meaning of such recommendation is not only a green light for land grab, but also a forced confiscation of land for the benefit of the residents of the occupier. Such confiscation is a serious violation of the international law, however, since the committee does not accept the area as occupied, then such confiscation might be possible.
The State must not intervene in land disputes – Another far reaching recommendation is regarding the obligation of the government to protect Palestinian properties. According to the Levi Committee, in cases where settlers are taking over Palestinian lands, the authorities must not intervene, but the Palestinians need to appeal to the courts to determine their rights to the lands, and only after winning the case in court, would the state help enforce the law. The Committee is recommending annuling the Military Order that was issued following the Sasson Report enabling the authorities to remove invaders to Palestinian lands, which is one of the tools the State has in order to fight against settlers land grab.
In cases of petitions to the Supreme Court to enforce the law and evict settlers from Palestinian lands, the Committee recommends that the Supreme Court will send the sides to the district court (and even offers to establish special courts for land issues in the West Bank) to determine the ownership of the land and only after a clear determination of the ownership, would the court deal with questions of enforcement.
4. Additional Recommendations
The are many other recommendations that has to do with the settlement activity. For example, a recommendation to allow the declaration of new Nature Reserves in area C, that will help undermine the ability of Palestinians to use their lands. Another recommendation is to allow 4-5 years where owners of lands will be invited to register their lands, following which, whoever did not register his or her lands, will lose any right in the land.
It seams that the committee, that was invited to offer recommendation regarding the ways to legalize outposts on State Land, took the liberty to support many of the settlers’ wishes and to bring them as recommendations of an official respectful committee. This would probably have a significant political effect within the public debate on the issue of settlements.