By Dr. Max Singer
BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 204
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Israeli advocates of the two-state solution should support the findings of the Levy Commission, which affirms Israel’s right to settle in the West Bank. Israel will thus be viewed as giving up its own territory in any future agreement. Israeli citizens should not deny their country’s rights in order to strengthen the argument for removing settlements.
Opponents of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and supporters of a two-state solution should support the Levy Commission’s affirmation of Israel’s rights in the territories. The Commission concluded that “Israelis have the legal right to settle in Judea and Samaria and the establishment of a settlement cannot, in and of itself, be considered illegal.” It did not say, however, that the settlements should stay where they are.
The objection made to many or all of the settlements is that they are thought to interfere with peace negotiations and/or block a two-state solution. These arguments are just as strong if the settlements are considered legal as they are if they are thought to be illegal; the question of legality is separate from that of prudence about Israel’s settlement policy. The Levy Commission didn’t claim that its findings about the legal status of settlements and Israel’s claims to Judea and Samaria meant that Israel should keep the settlements, nor did it reject the idea of transferring the bulk of Judea and Samaria to a Palestinian state. It also did not speak of the disputes about private ownership of particular pieces of land used for settlements.
There are two problems with the common assumption that one who feels strongly about restricting settlements and negotiating a two-state solution should strengthen his case by supporting the international position that the settlements are not just imprudent but also illegal. First, it is based on a falsehood; the settlements are not illegal. The director of the Israel Policy Forum (IPF) essentially conceded as much to Haaretz, while attacking the Levy Commission: “Ambassador Baker seems to have misunderstood the nature of our concerns, which stem from the added impediments the Levy report poses for achieving a diplomatic solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – not the technical and legal reasoning used to arrive at its conclusions, which is irrelevant to our concern.” In other words, he said, the legal arguments of the Commission may be correct, but they make it harder to achieve what we think is the best diplomatic solution. The correct response to the Levy Commission for those who share the IPF’s concerns is to say – as many supporters of the Commission do – that even though the report is correct, it is not a reason to keep the settlements or to object to a Palestinian state.
The second problem is that rejection of the Levy report has the effect of helping the attack on Israel’s legitimacy. The report’s conclusion permits Israel to say, “Our settlements are legal, and we have a legal claim to the land, but …read more