A committee appointed by the Israeli government has reaffirmed Israel's longstanding position that the West Bank, captured from Jordan in June 1967, is not occupied territory. Its non-binding report recommends a sweeping change of procedures in the West Bank to benefit settlers—including the annulment of various orders and Supreme Court rulings. About 2.5 million Palestinians and 300,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank.
WHY DO THE PALESTINIANS—WITH STRONG INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY BACKING—REGARD THE WEST BANK AS OCCUPIED LAND?
The West Bank amounts to a part of British-ruled Palestine which was seized by Jordan during the war that broke out in 1948 with the British withdrawal and Israel's declaration of independence. Israel seized it in the 1967 war but has never annexed it, despite settling parts of it with Israeli citizens.
The Palestinians argue that since the West Bank was not Israeli territory at the time of its capture, the laws of occupation set down in the Hague Regulations and Fourth Geneva Convention must apply. Many agree: U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 of November 1967 calls for the "withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict," meaning the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem; and the World Court ruled in 2004 that the territories were occupied and the Israeli settlements in them illegal.
Furthermore, the United Nations' General Assembly voted in 1947 to partition British Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state, and although the envisioned borders are not the same as those that emerged from the 1948-49 war, the West Bank roughly corresponds to the central parcel allocated by that plan to the Arab side.
The dovish branch of Israeli politics has accepted the term "occupation" as legitimate shorthand at least—and so did even longtime hawk Ariel Sharon, in his final years as prime minister about a decade ago.
WHY DOES ISRAEL DISAGREE?
Israelis note that Jordan has no current claim on the territory (and its previous annexation was recognized by only three countries)—and that there is no recognized state of Palestine that the land can be said to be occupied from (although scores of nations do recognize a "State of Palestine," most Western nations do not and the United Nations has yet to bestow such recognition).
Israelis note the Palestinians along with the rest of the Arab world rejected the 1947 partition plan.
In this complex reality, Israel's central argument is that since no internationally recognized country can be considered the clear rightful owner of the West Bank, the term "occupation" should not apply, and therefore the Geneva conventions governing occupations need not apply.
Israeli officials routinely refer to "disputed territory"—a term the Palestinians reject.
WHAT IS NEW IN THE PANEL'S REPORT?
The committee recommends that Israel legalize dozens of unsanctioned settler outposts.
It also proposes that Israelis and Palestinians be given no more than five years to register land they say they own; after that time, no one will be able to claim ownership, a situation that could disadvantage Palestinians, especially those who live outside the West Bank.
It recommends annulling a 1979 Supreme Court decision forbidding the expropriation of land for "military needs" when the intent is to build settlements.
It proposes stripping the military of its authority to force settlers off land claimed by Palestinians even if the settlers do not prove full ownership.