Adopting a blue-ribbon legal report reasserting the validity of Israel’s claim to the West Bank wouldn’t undermine Israel’s international image, but bolster it.
JINSA When a blue-ribbon panel of Israeli legal experts issued a report this July declaring that the West Bank isn’t “occupied territory,” but territory to which Israel has a legitimate claim, and that settlements therefore cannot be considered ipso facto illegal, it raised an outcry both in Israel and overseas. A group of prominent American Jews even wrote Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to urge him against adopting the report, arguing that it would imperil both “the two-state solution, and the prestige of Israel as a democratic member of the international community,” because the latter depends on persuading the world that Israel is “committed to a two-state vision.” Many Israeli pundits voiced similar concerns.
Since the Levy Report essentially reiterates the official position of all Israeli governments, this concern seems strange. Nevertheless, its opponents are right to see it as a potential game changer. Where they err is in deeming it a negative one. In reality, the report offers Israel a golden opportunity to start regaining the diplomatic ground it has lost over the last two decades.
No honest appraisal could deny that Israel’s international standing has deteriorated since it signed the Oslo Accords in 1993. Anti-Israel boycotts, once confined to the Arab world, are now routine agenda items for universities, certain Western churches, and trade unions. Courts in several European countries have considered indicting Israeli officials for war crimes, and European polls routinely deem Israel a prime threat to world peace. References to Israel as an “apartheid state” have become commonplace, and academics and journalists openly question its very right to exist. All this would have been inconceivable 20 years ago.
This deterioration has many causes, but one is directly germane to the Levy Report: Though officially, Israel still insists on the validity of its claim to the West Bank, post-Oslo Israeli leaders have generally downplayed this claim. Instead, they have touted the Palestinians’ “legitimate and political rights” to the territory, at times even adopting the Palestinian rhetoric of “occupation.”
Their goal was well-intentioned: to show that Israel was indeed “committed to a two-state vision,” thereby creating an atmosphere conducive to peace. But once Israel stopped asserting its own rights in the West Bank, there was nobody to counter the Palestinian claim that it is “occupied Palestinian land” to which Israel has no rights whatsoever. Consequently, the unchallenged international narrative now views Israel not as a magnanimous peace-maker willing to cede territory for peace, but as an unrepentant thief who stole land and refuses to return it.