The West Bank: If It's Not Occupation, Then What Is It?

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Haaretz is reporting that a committee appointed by Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, to explore the legal status of Jewish settlements on the West Bank, has come to the conclusion that Israel is not an occupying force:

The Levy Committee, headed by former court vice president Edmond Levy, recommends a fundamental change in the legal regime in the West Bank, including the annulment of a long list of laws, High Court of Justice Rulings and procedures in order to permit Jews to settle in all of Judea and Samaria.

(...)

With regard to Israel's legal status in the West Bank, the Levy Committee declared that Israel is not an occupying power. The panel arrived at that conclusion after considering two conflicting legal approaches on the question.

The first approach, presented by elements generally identified with the left, holds that Judea and Samaria are "occupied territories" under international law, ever since they were captured from the Jordanian kingdom in 1967.

(...)

Members of the panel accepted the legal opinion presented by the right. They explained that the generally accepted concept of occupation relates to short periods in which territory is capture from a sovereign state until the dispute between the two sides is resolved. But Judea and Samaria have been under Israeli control for decades, and it is impossible to foresee a time when Israel will relinquish these territories, if ever.

What this means, if implemented, is simple: The Israeli government would treat West Bank land as if it were land in Israel proper (pre-1967 Israel). Now, of course, if Israel were to treat the land of the West Bank as part of Israel, it would necessarily follow that it would have to treat the people who live on that land as Israeli citizens, extending them full voting rights, just as it extends citizenship to people who live in Israel proper, regardless of ethnicity. So: The natural consequence of this notion, if it is carried through to law, would be to extend voting rights to the Palestinians of the West Bank. This would spell the end of Israel as a Jewish-majority democracy, but the right-wing in Israel seems more enamored of land-ownership than it does of such antiquated notions as, you know, Zionism.

Of course, you don't hear too many voices on the right in Israel clamoring to extend full Israeli citizenship to the Palestinians. The right-wing wants the land, but not the people. What the right doesn't understand is that this arrangement would be a non-starter, for political and moral reasons. Then again, the right doesn't understand very much, so why would it understand this? 

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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