What is the source of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s apparent scorn for the religious, Land of Israel-faithful public in Israel?
Over the years, starting from his first term as prime minister in 1996-99, and certainly since he was elected again three years ago, Netanyahu has mastered the art of showing friendship and warmth to the religious-Zionist community while keeping them at arm’s length politically. Though the moderate Jewish Home party was invited to join his coalition government, its influence is limited, as it has only three Knesset seats, the minimum permitted. Its counterpart, the less compromising National Union, was originally courted by Netanyahu but he never actually offered it a place in the government; many felt this was his plan from the outset.
In terms of facts on the ground, under Netanyahu a ten-month construction freeze was imposed on the Jewish towns in Judea and Samaria (Yesha); unofficially, it lasted even longer in many places. Not only that, but five apartment buildings in the thriving Givat HaUlpena neighborhood in Beit El were allowed to be dismantled, as was Migron nearby, and Givat Assaf and Amona are still on the chopping block.
But the blow Netanyahu dealt the residents of Yesha just this week possibly smarts the most of all. He decided, at least for now, to accept the ambivalent counsel of his Attorney General, Yehuda Weinstein, and not adopt the Levy Report. This, even though elections are coming, at which times incumbent candidates generally try to find favor with their natural constituencies.
What is the Levy Report, and what did Weinstein recommend? The report, prepared by a special commission headed by former Supreme Court Justice Edmond Levy, finds that Yesha is not “occupied” but is essentially Israeli. It similarly concludes that the outposts therein are not illegal under international law, and that Israel can and should legalize them as soon as possible.
Official government acceptance of the Levy Report would mean removal of the various bureaucratic and political obstacles that have rendered Jewish construction in Yesha so difficult over the years. Even more fundamentally, an Israeli government decision to this effect tells the Jewish and international communities in a very straightforward manner: “This is our land!”
The Levy Commission explains that Yesha, together with most of the rest of Israel, was assigned to the Jewish people back in 1920 by the leading powers of the time at the San Remo Conference, and later, by the League of Nations. After the 1948 War of Independence, Jordan “annexed” Yesha, but no one other than Pakistan and Great Britain recognized it. The 1967 Six-Day War enabled Israel to return to what had been legally granted the Jewish people 47 years earlier – such as Jerusalem suburbs Ramat Eshkol, Gilo, Ramat Eshkol, and the Old City.
Though the Arabs continue to term these Jerusalem neighborhoods “illegal settlements,” the Levy Report makes quite clear that these areas were never Jordanian but were allocated to the Jewish people. It also belies the false claim that Israel is in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention by building and settling Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem. The Convention, from 1949, details rules and guidelines for “occupied territories” – which Yesha is not, since it was not captured from its legal sovereign. In any event, the report states, the term “occupation” cannot apply to such a long period as 45 years, with no end in sight.
Netanyahu was said to be considering adopting merely the report’s conclusions but not the ceremonial declarations that Yesha is Israel’s, etc. The Land of Israel camp was gearing up to try to stomach this position, but then along came Attorney General Weinstein. In his letter to Netanyahu, he stated that with elections approaching, the government must “moderate its governmental activities.” Netanyahu jumped to interpret this as a ban on adopting the Levi Report altogether.
However, Weinstein’s letter actually does not come close to outlawing the report. For one thing, the current government was not toppled and did not lose its Knesset majority, and therefore it retains its mandate to govern as it sees fit.
In addition, a decision to adopt the Levi Report is by no means a “pre-election grab,” as the report has been on the public agenda since it was submitted three months ago.
Several Likud cabinet ministers, including Yisrael Katz, Silvan Shalom, and Limor Livnat, have gone on record in support of the Levi Report. Just this past Monday evening, mayors and activists from Yesha held a major meeting, demanding that the government fully adopt the Levi Report.
It remains to be seen whether the pressure will work – or if Netanyahu will continue to toy with the Land of Israel faithful, confident that once again many of them will work tirelessly for his reelection under the assumption that he is the least of the evils.
In addition to visiting Yerushalayim, there are many other ways readers can become effective advocates for keeping Jerusalem united under Israeli sovereignty. For information on bus tours in news-making areas of Jerusalem, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Keep Jerusalem-Im Eshkachech website at www.keepjerusalem.org.
Chaim Silberstein is president of Keep Jerusalem-Im Eshkachech and the Jerusalem Capital Development Fund. He was formerly a senior adviser to Israel’s minister of tourism. Hillel Fendel, past senior editor at Israel National News/Arutz-7, is a veteran writer on Jerusalem affairs. Both have lived in Jerusalem and now reside in Beit El.