This week, a judicial committee empanelled by the Netanyahu government reached a (literally) ground-breaking decision: There is no such thing as the occupation. The eponymous Levy Commission, dubbed for the former Israeli Supreme Court justice Edmond Levy, who headed the three-member committee, not only leveled the playing field by dismissing international legal opinion on the status of the occupied territories, but established a new governmental regime, based in this original judicial precedent, that would retroactively approve existing settlement outposts and promote Jewish-Israeli expansion in the West Bank. While these findings have provoked the ire of the international community, the question at the territorial and moral foundation of this dilemma is, what is the significance of this legal framework for the future?
Surely, the rejection of international opinion — and opprobrium — in regards to Israel’s status and the strategy of unilateral action is nothing new. In fact, it is intrinsic to the Israeli narrative, from the early days of nation-building and terrorism under the British Mandate, to Ben-Gurion’s famous muttering of “Ooom…Shmoom!” in defiance of the international community in the early years of the state, to the radical disengagement plan under the Sharon government. What is shocking about this decision is the de jure denial of the past 45 years of Israeli history with the insistence that the occupation never existed. Not only does it obscure the struggle of activists on both sides of the conflict over the past four decades; it erases the very internal debates within the Israeli government that are critical to understanding — and perhaps even defending — Israeli government policy. By pretending that the territories have been part and parcel of Israel for two generations, the Levy Committee and the Netanyahu government may have engineered some legalese, but they have also effaced the aspirations of the Israeli people for normalization within an international framework.
The true proposition is in the future prospects afforded by this report. I see it as further readying the terrain for a radical move on the part of the Netanyahu administration that will fundamentally alter the territorial, psychological and moral geography of the conflict. As I wrote in March, I intuit that the Netanyahu government is laying the legal and political groundwork for the unilateral annexation of Area C of the West Bank, incorporating nearly all of its Jewish settlements within territorial Israel. This would allow the government — after 45 years — to finally effect full control over the heartland of Judea and Samaria. At the same time, it both separates Israel from the Palestinians and surrounds the major Palestinian population centers in areas A and B in the interests of Israeli security.
In many ways, it is the ideal arrangement for Netanyahu’s Israel, whose primary interest is to safeguard the settlements and the territorial integrity of the state while stalling on Palestinian self-determination. The move may not entail unilaterally transferring a significant percentage of the Palestinian population to Israel, since very few of them live in Area C, but surely the Palestinians will not agree to have the contours of a future Palestinian state effectively delineated without a negotiated treaty. The plan would thus preempt the peace process and leave them few options other than a terror campaign (one most likely directed at vulnerable targets inside the Green Line) with resulting harsh repercussions. It seems unlikely that the international community, a week in advance of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Israel in the midst of a close election, has been provoked for nothing: I believe Netanyahu has put them on notice.
From the Israeli perspective, the idea of annexing makes sense — if it had been done 45 years ago and encompassed the entirety of the West Bank. Four decades of occupation cannot be dismantled by legal fiat; it is too late to put Israel on the firmer ground of international opinion that the situation may have called for in 1967. However catastrophic it would have been for Palestinians, both in the moment and in the future (a situation I would neither trivialize nor celebrate), Israel would likely have been afforded more stability and clearer options over the past four decades if had made this bold and painful decision immediately after the Six Day War. However, this was an opportunity to miss an opportunity for Levi Eshkol, Moshe Dayan, Menachem Begin, and the decision-makers of the time — not one to be seized by Bibi Netanyahu, Danny Dayan, and Edmond Levy today. Two generations of a deadly embrace, 180 settlements, and four more wars later, profound changes cannot be undone.
It is said that those who do not learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it. But they who would obliterate it entirely and unilaterally may suffer a worse fate: the destruction of both the dream and reality of the State of Israel.