The recently published report by an Israeli judge concluding that Israel is not in fact occupying the Palestinian territories – despite a well-established international consensus to the contrary – has provoked mostly incredulity or mirth in Israel and abroad.
Leftwing websites in Israel used comically captioned photographs to highlight Justice Edmond Levy’s preposterous finding. One shows an Israeli soldier pressing the barrel of a rifle to the forehead of a Palestinian pinned to the ground, saying: “You see – I told you there’s no occupation.”
Even Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, seemed a little discomfited by the coverage last week. He was handed the report more than a fortnight earlier but was apparently reluctant to make it public.
Downplaying the Levy report’s significance may prove unwise, however. If Netanyahu is embarrassed, it is only because of the timing of the report’s publication rather than its substance.
It was, after all, the Israeli prime minister himself who established the committee earlier this year to assess the legality of the Jewish settlers’ “outposts”, ostensibly unauthorised by the government, that have spread like wild seeds across the West Bank.
He hand-picked its three members, all diehard supporters of the settlements, and received the verdict he expected – that the settlements are legal. Certainly, Levy’s opinion should have come as no surprise. In 2005 he was the only Supreme Court judge to oppose the government’s decision to withdraw the settlers from Gaza.
Legal commentators too have been dismissive of the report. They have concentrated more on Levy’s dubious reasoning than on the report’s political significance.
They have noted that Theodor Meron, the foreign ministry’s legal adviser in 1967, expressly warned the government in the wake of the Six-Day War that settling civilians in the newly seized territory was a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
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