More than 40 prominent American Jewish leaders and scholars sent an appeal letter [AP report] to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu [official website], it was reported Monday, urging Netanyahu to reject a recent report advocating legitimizing Israeli settlements in the West Bank [JURIST news archive]. The letter's signatories predicted that Israel's international image would be damaged by endorsing the report, which was written by a government-commissioned panel [JURIST report] that included former Supreme Court Justice Edmond Levy. The report argues that the West Bank is not occupied territory, and so recommends that the state legalize dozens of unsanctioned settlements and outposts there by annulling orders of the Supreme Court of Israel [official website, in Hebrew] and other legal rulings. The Palestinians, 2.5 million of whom live in the West Bank, claim the West Bank for a future state and have refused to continue peace negotiations with Israel until settlement construction is frozen. Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast war and claims that it has a legal right to settle the territory because it is not legally occupied. In contrast the Palestinians and most of the international community argue that the West Bank was controlled by Jordan at the time of its capture, making it occupied territory that does not belong to Israel. There are currently over 200 settlements and outposts in the West Bank, home to more than 500,000 Israeli settlers.
Last week the Israeli Supreme Court postponed the demolition of illegal West Bank settlements [JURIST report], with 30 apartments having had been scheduled for demolition on July 1. West Bank settlements have caused tension between Israel and Palestinian authorities, as well as criticism by international groups, despite the Israeli parliament's vote [JURIST report] against legalizing the unauthorized settlement last month. Also last month the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories Richard Falk demanded [JURIST report] Israel cease its demolition [press release] of Palestinian buildings in the West Bank settlements after finding that the demolition of Palestinian structures such as houses, animal shelters, water cisterns and roads have risen by 87 percent from last year. Israel responded to international investigations into these settlements by announcing [JURIST report] in March that it will sever ties to the UN Human Rights Council. The announcement came after the UN body initiated its investigation to determine the effect that Israeli settlements have had on the civil, political, economic and cultural rights of the Palestinian people. Even in March 2010, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official profile] called [JURIST report] in a press conference Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank "illegal."