Israel commission recommends "legalizing" West Bank settlements

A panel commissioned by the Israeli government recommended July 9 that the state "legalize"* dozens of unsanctioned West Bank settlements. The government has not yet endorsed the recommendations, which include facilitating settlement construction by annulling orders of the Supreme Court of Israel and other legal rulings. The Palestinians, 2.5 million of whom live in the West Bank, claim the West Bank for a future state and have refused to continue peace negotiations with Israel until settlement construction is frozen. A 2004 World Court ruling held all Israeli West Bank settlements "illegal." There are currently over 200 settlements and outposts in the West Bank, home to more than 500,000 Israeli settlers. Last week the Israeli Supreme Court postponed the demolition of "illegal" West Bank settlements at Ulpana, with 30 apartments having had been scheduled for demolition on July 1.

From Jurist, July 9. Used with permission.

*Note: All the West Bank settlements are illegal under international law.

See our last posts on Palestine and the West Bank.

Ironies in Israeli corruption scandal

An Israeli court on July 10 cleared former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of the most serious corruption charges against him, including fraud, concealing cash gifts and double billing, but convicted him on a lesser count of breach of trust. He still faces a bribery trial. (LAT, July 10) Among numerous phone calls congratulating him was a one from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The Palestinian leader, who has been avoiding meeting or talking with the current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, congratulated Olmert in his acquittal and wished him the best of luck in the future. (Haaretz, July 11) In an apparent coincidence, the same day in Washington, the House Subcommittee on the Middle East dedicated a large part of its hearing to a discussion on Abbas' alleged corruption in a hearing titled "Chronic Kleptocracy: Corruption within the Palestinian Political Establishment." (Haaretz, July 11)

Rights groups: spike in Israeli settler violence

Israeli settlers on the West Bank have stepped up attacks on Palestinians in recent years, human rights groups and UN agencies said July 11, claiming a lack of Israeli law enforcement has created a climate of impunity. "The Israeli government has not shown the political will to protect Palestinian civilians and has failed to commit sufficient resources to the job," said Jessica Montell of the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem. Montell and representatives from the UN Human Rights Council told a Ramallah press conference that settler violence against Palestinians is not random, but targeted at areas that settlers seek to take over, or intended as "price tag" attacks to deter the Israeli military from taking any action against settlements.

Settler attacks on Palestinians causing injury or damage rose from 168 in 2009 to 411 in 2011, according to UN figures. In the first half of 2012, 154 attacks were reported. The figures are based on reports from Palestinian villagers that are verified by UN investigators in interviews and field visits. Attacks linked to the "price tag" tactic tripled from seven or eight annually between 2008 and 2010 to 24 in 2011, the groups reported. Over the past decade, B'Tselem submitted 352 complaints to the Israeli police on behalf of Palestinians. In 250 cases, an investigation was opened, but only 29 resulted in indictments, according to B'Tselem figures. (AP, July 11)

Israeli panel: "Occupation? What occupation?"

The committee that recommended "legalization" of the settlements also asserted that the territories that Israel conquered from Jordan in 1967 are not legally under "occupation"—therefore stipulating that the Fourth Geneva Convention banning the settlement of citizens from the occupying country in occupied territories does not apply on the West Bank. The report argued that the Israeli presence in "Yehuda and Shomron" (Judea and Samaria, the term now universally used in Israeli official parlance) is not a "military occupation" because no other legal entity has maintained sovereignty there since before 1967. The report asserted that Jordan's presence there prior to 1967 was itself an occupation, not actual rule. It notes that the 1922 British Mandate called for the creation of "a national home for the Jewish people" in the territory west of the Jordan River. The panel was headed by former Supreme Court Justice Edmond Levy, who vocally opposed Israel's 2005 Gaza Strip withdrawal. It also included former Foreign Ministry legal adviser Alan Baker and former deputy president of the Tel Aviv District Court Tehiya Shapira.

Right-wing Israeli politicians are overjoyed by the report. MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) boasted of the report: "It said that every Israeli government can build anywhere in Judea and Samaria and it said, in a very clear voice, that this is not conquered land when it comes to international law... Every community, every outpost [in Judea and Samaria] is totally legal." (Arutz Sheva, July 12; JP, July 11; AP, NYT, July 10; Yeshiva World, Commentary, JP, July 9)

Ramallah protesters say no to Oslo

Hundreds of Palestinians marched in Ramallah July 3 to protest the violent dispersal of two similar protests by PA police in the preceding days. Youth group "Palestinians for Dignity" said in a statement: "With this march we emphasise that the people are the source of authority, and that we reject the use of violence against the Palestinian people by any and all hands." The earlier protests were called to oppose a scheduled meeting between President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli vice prime minister Shaul Mofaz. Protesters called on Abbas to abandon peace talks with Israel altogether, holding signs reading: "No to negotiations with the murderer Mofaz." (AlJazeera, July 3)

Settler university for West Bank