Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Hannah Weisfeld Takes on the Levy Committee

The Huffington Post finally got around to talking about the Levy Committee, which most of you should have heard of as the legal group that came up with a legal argument about how the West Bank is not legally speaking occupied territory and therefore Israel's settlement project is not illegal or violate the GCs. The HP's method, though, comes in the form of a blog post by Hannah Weisfeld. Weisfeld, by the way, is the director of Yachad, which according to its wiki is a pro-Israel, pro-peace organization which believes "time is running out and the two-state solution is in peril". It would be nice to see more posts from Weisfeld on the HP that are explicitly pro-Israel rather than doom and gloom, which is what this article is.

Weisfeld leads off with the facts of the case:
"According to the committee the IV Geneva Convention does not apply to the West Bank and, therefore, Israel cannot be deemed to be occupying this piece of land. On that basis the 'illegal outposts' in the West Bank, built on what Israel recognizes as state land, should be made legal, and zoning policies should be amended to make it easier for Jews to build in this area."
Weisfeld isn't a lawyer, so she doesn't even try to confront the legal arguments made by the Levy Committee. Instead, she does what any HP blogger on the payroll would do, change the subject to the poor suffering Palestinians (tm).
"Interestingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, lacking from the report is any mention of the status of the people living on the land. Admittedly this was not the brief of the committee -- the brief of the committee was to determine the legal status of outposts in the West Bank, but can one ever consider the status of a piece of land without taking into consideration the people that live on the land?"
 Weisfeld herself admits that the purpose of the committee wasn't to make decisions about the people living on the land, but complains about it anyway. I guess we're all so used to legal bodies making political decisions nowadays that when one legal body simply makes a legal ruling and leaves it at that, we get confused and upset. I'm not a lawyer either, so I can't argue the legal arguments on merit, but I don't think the people living in the West Bank change the status of the territory legally. But I could be wrong.

But then Weisfeld heads onto shaky ground:

"If, as the Levy committee reports, there is no occupation of the West Bank, and on that basis, the IV Geneva Convention does not apply, then surely Israel must justify its decision to grant full Israeli citizenship to the 500,000 Israelis that live over the green-line (1949 armistice lines) and deny it to the 2.5 million or so Palestinians that live in the area?"
 If you found this question confusing, it's understandable because it doesn't make any sense. How can Israel justify granting Israeli citizenship to Israelis? I really have no idea, because if they are already Israelis Israel doesn't have to grant them citizenship and therefore probably didn't. Moving over the green line (and kudos to Ms. Weisfeld for referring to it as an armistice line rather than a border) doesn't cause Israelis to lose their Israeli citizenship. At the same time, the West Bank is not legally occupied, but that does not mean the West Bank is part of Israel. It remains what it has always been, a disputed territory whose status needs to be resolved through negotiation.

Weisfeld continues the hand waving:
"If one deems the land [of the West Bank] not to be occupied then there is no justification for denying those residing in the land a vote, unless of course the governing power chooses not to define itself according to democratic principles. If Israel was to definitively decide the land is not occupied and give all the residents of the West Bank the right to vote, it would dramatically alter the Jewish nature of the state, as the majority of its citizens would be, in the not too distant future, non-Jewish. It is this basic conundrum that 'mainstreamed' the two-state discourse in Israeli civil society during the 1990s: the understanding that if Israel wished to be a Jewish and democratic state it could not do so without the creation of an independent state of Palestine on the West Bank."
Again, the first sentence doesn't make sense. There are a million reasons not to give the Palestinians living in the West Bank the vote, including the reason Weisfeld herself points out, giving them the vote would destroy the Jewish character of Israel. Denying the vote to the Palestinians of the West Bank is completely in line with "democratic principles" based on the actions of other democracies. Look at Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is part  of the US (unlike the West Bank, which is not part of Israel). The people there pay taxes to the US gov't, but they can't vote. And the Puerto Ricans haven't been killing Americans for decades like the Palestinians have been killing Israelis. Weisfeld is, as usual, forcing a choice where none exists.

Hang on, because she's not done yet.
"But it seems that this conundrum does not bother Justice Levy. And neither does it seem to bother him that not one Palestinian was consulted in the process. The self-interest argument that Israel's survivability depends on the creation of a Palestinian state does not take into consideration that, regardless of whether the majority of Israelis believe it to be in Israel's best long-term interest, there is a Palestinian right to self-determination in an independent state of Palestine. The Levy committee appears to be interested in neither Israeli self interests nor Palestinian rights. It is interested in land."
You would think Weisfeld won't write this paragraph because she herself admitted above  "the brief of the committee was to determine the legal status of outposts in the West Bank." Consulting Palestinians wouldn't change the legal status of outposts in the WB, unless maybe they were Palestinian lawyers. The Levy Committee's job wasn't to ensure Israel's survival or fight for "Palestinian rights" (a phrase so overused it has become meaningless). Weisfeld was right, the committee was interested in land because that was its purpose. It's up to other people to decide where we go from here.

Weisfeld wraps it all up:
"Should the Attorney General of Israel choose to accept the findings of the Levy report the settlers will have won in the short-term. It will pave the way for mass legalization of settlements in the greater land of Israel. But the long-term sacrifice will be great. For Israel will pay for the land with not just democracy according to a demographic reality, but the Jewish ideals of democracy and justice on which the state of Israel was built, that recognize and respect the rights of all human beings. And that sacrifice will be made by Jews around the world, not just those in the state."
What's ironic about this whole essay is that while Weisfeld was complaining about how the Levy Committee didn't consider other points of view or alternatives in their ruling, Weisfeld does the same in her essay. She never considers the possibility of the Palestinians (gasp!) actually making peace with Israel. For her, the choices are either no settlements in the West Bank (and an end to the occupation and maybe then there will be peace) or the entire West Bank annexed and the Arabs take over Israel.  There is no imagination in this piece, no accountability for the other side. Just doom and gloom and despair.

The only thing the Levy Committee has changed about the I/P conflict is it took away one of the primary arguments from the Palestinian apologists: that the settlements are illegal. Weisfeld and company are more than welcome to continue making the argument that they are immoral and detrimental to the two state solution. They were making that argument before Levy and there is nothing to stop them from making it post Levy. I for one think the Levy Committee's ruling was great because it took away a key Palestinian talking point. Maybe this will be the kick in the pants the Palestinians need to finally negotiate peace (but I wouldn't hold my breath).

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