Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finds himself under increasing pressure both for and against adopting a recent study concluding that the Jews have a legal and historical right to resettle Judea and Samaria.
Judea and Samaria are, of course, the biblical heartland of ancient Israel, a region central to the Jewish faith and heritage in this land. But it is also what the world calls the "West Bank" and what the Palestinian Arabs claim as their own independent state, which they insist must be Judenrein - free of Jews.
The international community has for the most part sided with the Arab position,and been harshly critical of the several hundred thousand Jews who have made their homes in Judea and Samaria over the past 35 years. These Jewish "settlers" are often labeled an obstacle to peace for daring to rebuild the cities and villages of their forefathers.
During the summer, Netanyahu commissioned a panel of jurists, including one who had been involved in formulating the so-called "Oslo Accords", to produce a study on the legality of Jewish settlement activity in Judea and Samaria.
Drawing on "international, Jordanian, Israeli and even Ottoman laws" the Levy Committee concluded that "from the point of view of international law, the classical laws of 'occupation' as set out in the relevant international conventions cannot be considered applicable to the unique and sui generis historic and legal circumstances of Israel's presence in Judea and Samaria, over the course of decades."
The Geneva Conventions define "military occupation" as the seizing of another nation's land, and the fact is that no nation legally controlled Judea and Samaria following the fall of the Ottoman Empire, which itself had ruled the area for over five centuries.
Additionally, the Jews cannot be considered an outside force in Judea and Samaria, but rather the historic founders of the territory as a unified nation-state. Jewish archeological finds dating back millennia abound in the "West Bank."
Right-wing Israeli lawmakers have been angered by Netanyahu's subsequent reluctance to adopt the Levy Committee's report. Voice of Israel Radio reported this week that with early elections looming, Netanyahu will now recommend that the government adopt part of the report.
Netanyahu still will not throw his weight behind increased Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria, but does support those parts of the Levy report that call for an end to discrimination against the "settlers" and for Israel to reject the world's description of the Jewish presence in these areas as "occupation."
Israeli lawmaker Yisrael Katz (Likud) said Netanyahu is doing the right thing, and that his position will "deliver a clear message to residents of Judea and Samaria that they can live a normal life like everyone else in the country."
Not everyone was pleased by the decision.
Opposition leader Shaul Mofaz (Kadima) appealed to Israel's attorney general to stop Netanyahu from adopting the report, arguing that doing so would obligate the next government to adhere to its findings, which left-wing Israelis reject. Mofaz said that with elections just months away (January 22), now is not the time to be making such controversial policy decisions.
Mofaz's Kadima Party was in power prior to Netanyahu's election victory less than four years ago, and was keen to surrender large swaths of Judea and Samaria to the Palestinians and to uproot the Jews living there.