Illegality has never stopped Israel’s behaviour before, but this is certainly a blow from inside the belly of the beast:
A senior legal official who secretly warned the government of Israel after the Six Day War of 1967 that it would be illegal to build Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories has said, for the first time, that he still believes that he was right.
The declaration by Theodor Meron, the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s legal adviser at the time and today one of the world’s leading international jurists, is a serious blow to Israel’s persistent argument that the settlements do not violate international law, particularly as Israel prepares to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the war in June 1967.
The legal opinion, a copy of which has been obtained by The Independent, was marked “Top Secret” and “Extremely Urgent” and reached the unequivocal conclusion, in the words of its author’s summary, “that civilian settlement in the administered territories contravenes the explicit provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention.”
Judge Meron, president of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia until 2005, said that, after 40 years of Jewish settlement growth in the West Bank – one of the main problems to be solved in any peace deal: “I believe that I would have given the same opinion today.”
Judge Meron, a holocaust survivor, also sheds new light on the aftermath of the 1967 war by disclosing that the Foreign Minister, Abba Eban, was “sympathetic” to his view that civilian settlement would directly conflict with the Hague and Geneva conventions governing the conduct of occupying powers.
Despite the legal opinion, which was forwarded to Levi Eshkol, the Prime Minister, but not made public at the time, the Labour cabinet progressively sanctioned settlements. This paved the way to growth which has resulted in at least 240,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank today.
After decades of furious and determined settlement building, Israel has created a monster that seems to know few bounds. I have long argued that a type of civil war is quite likely when, and if, the international community finally pressures Israel to give up its colonial addiction to land. A small but violent minority of settlers will resist, and Israel will only have itself to blame.